Thursday, April 30, 2009


Today the Writer's Digest prompt is "Farewell." I've decided I'm not going anywhere, though; I'm going to try to keep going with daily poems for another month. I'll be away this weekend, though, so my posting might be erratic.

"Farewell" is hard. There are places too sad to go, and I can't come up with a good "good riddance" sort of "farewell" poem. I just waited until an image came into my head and then went with it.

June Before Appalachian State

The kid on the raft
stirs the river with his stick, a trick
he learned from Huck Finn
in the movies. Already his shoulders
are pinking from the sun. Already
his mother has left the pushoff point
to start the Subaru. His dad watches
as the figure, straining to look downstream,
grows smaller and older. So many
adventures to come that summer, and
so many warnings of pain. He squints
at that last sight of his son, and the hat
the kid brushed off, brusquely,
is knotted and damp in his big hands.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

May You Never

Never Expect To Know the Guitar

You’ve got the knots of metal where the strings start,
the trail over the body, like a lover’s hand, to that wooden palm
at the top. You’ve got curves and abrupt angles. Holes that invite,
with barely visible words within. A broad, slightly humped back,
like an elderly swimmer’s. White look-at-me edges.
Brown places that shine when the body is moved. Discs that beg
to be turned. A perpetual faint echo
of tones and overtones.

You get all that, and it doesn’t tell you a thing
about where that voice comes from.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I didn't know there would be math

Today's Writer's Digest assignment was a sestina.

I picked some words--with thoughts about the laundromat in the Garden District of New Orleans where you can get pizza, play pool, and wash your socks.

St. Charles’ Laundromat

Years later, she would reckon it "the folly
on the trolley": the day they took the sheet
and blankets on the streetcar down St. Charles
to the bar-laundromat combo. A burr
or two had hitchhiked, but it could be hand-
picked from the blanket’s countenance. Truly,

she wished their tryst could twist so free, for truly
she recognized her hurricane-soaked folly,
her primal flush when, like a wing, his hand
fell on her shoulder, then dropped like a sheet.
"Daisy,” she'd breathed—an alias. In a burr
of Edinburgh—or Pittsburgh--he'd said, "Charles."

And there it was, that stain, that thing with Charles:
a wart she’d like to burn away. Truly
she’d wronged her Dean, looming like Raymond Burr
in Rear Window in her mind, a man sans folly,
his countenance six-hundred-thread-count-sheet
smooth. And three weeks hence, her father would hand

her off, and Raymond--Dean--would take her hand,
never again to tipple at St. Charles’
launderette, her sins washed clean. The sheet
would wear thin, and the kids would make ghosts--truly,
she didn't want kids; but thirty meant folly
should be flicked off, discarded, like the burr

blanket-caught when this fake stranger's fake burr
warmed her ear, when his faux-Romeo hand
stroked her breast. (She faked nothing there.) Folly
was to be sent packing, along with Charles--
if that was his name. You know, truly,
she’d ditch them both and start with a blank sheet

for the next act. Her head spun like the sheet
now twisted lewdly—then, razzing a burr,
it clunked still and just lay there. She’d had, truly,
enough of it all but Abita. "Hand
me the basket, Charles," she asked.... "Charles?"
Texting someone’s fiancee. The folly

on the trolley was thinking that that sheet
would ever cover Charles again. The burr
and life in hand, she rejoiced. Truly.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A quick one

I hear that a shadorma is a six-line poem with this pattern of syllables: 3/5/3/3/7/5.

Here's my first attempt.

bucket chair
aimed at the dryer
time drags as your garments whirl
seeking perfection



I remember, in a misty, paisley way,
when it was different, when I moved lightly through the lines
like smooth ink making my telling shapes. Now I am lame,
a cast on my arm, a brace on my spirit. I have forgotten
that I was this way before, when I started: when all was strange,
every change a challenge, every move close to a buried mine.
I look back only as far as when I was quick and beautiful.
I don’t long for the past; there is far too much of it.
I long for that moment--maybe thirteen years ago,
or twelve, or never--that was so perfect
I didn’t even know it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Just under the wire

Writer's Digest prompt: a miscommunication or misunderstanding of some kind.

This is a first draft.

Mother Tongue

His head tilts as he watches her mouth.
Tad. Tad. It’s the sound she makes, the shape
her lips make, when there is food, or bone,
or cuddling. But she is wrinkly like
the shar-pei at the dog park, and there is no
come here, Tad, just this sagging sack
of a face. He lifts one ear, because it always
brings smiles and treats, but she isn’t even looking.
Is there another Tad? He runs to the door,
but there is no canine whiff, not even the
ringing of keys and the oily smell of the man,
her mate. His stomach feels rumbly.

In his new home, when the children say,
“His old master is dead,” he learns
another word, and he wonders
why the name for sorrow
is just a whisker’s breadth
from his own name.

An occasion

So I'm supposed to be sleeping in a cabin in the woods right now. My church had a retreat. I was there last night, but I felt ill and came home early.

"Oh, good," I thought. "I'll have time to write my poem." Time is one thing; motivation is quite another. I finally got going less than 45 minutes ago. At least I started before midnight.

Writer's Digest: write about an event, I think it said, or an occasion. This is another minefield for mawkishness, for autobiography that matters to no one besides the auto, for a Jenga-tower of cliche. And I have not done my subject justice. But the story is a lovely one.

Flower Communion

After the war, Maja Capek returned to Prague
to join her husband, Norbert. She was never again
to touch him.

Born Catholic, raised Baptist, turned Unitarian,
he had been taken to the Priesterblock of Dachau
and died among others so heretical
as to follow their consciences.

He left behind a custom. When spring is reborn
you walk out to the yard, or maybe to the market,
or perhaps to the roadside,
to find one blossom.

You take it to the sanctuary,
where the skilled hands of warm-faced ladies,
or maybe the fumbling fingers of a youth group,
arrange it with the others in a bucket.

You listen as an old story is told,
a tale of a man who found a way to unite
the motley, the ephemeral, in remembrance.

You stand in the queue until
a minister, or a child, or someone—
it doesn’t matter who—
hands you a flower.

You look at the flower.

Maybe you traded up. Maybe you feel cheated.
You quickly realize that market value,
skilled cultivation, even perfume
all cease to matter. The flower is the conduit
from hand to hand.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bill Tapia

Hearing about him on KHUM. He's 101.

Writer's Digest: "travel."

The Ukulelist

Tappy trod the vaudeville boards, serenaded the doughboys,
shook hands with Elvis. So many duffels, trunks, and Gladstones
fallen off the train since he picked up that uke.

Now all he carries are the nitro
and that pressboard case. Were he to forget one,
he’d prefer to drop the pills.

Still singing, still playing at one hundred and one,
his voice carries a perpetual sob, as if, despite his best intentions,
he mourns all he’s lost. But his fingers gather from strings

skeins of joy, ache, laughter.
Everything but anger. There is no anger in a ukulele.
He thinks, then, that heaven will be like the home
he’s carried for nearly a century.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


They don't get closer to life than this.

Today's prompt: "regret." As soon as I read the word, I saw in my mind's eye cardboard boxes.


It was as if her life caught fire and she ran
to escape the flames. Left behind in cardboard rooms
are the pieces of her life, unburned. Scraps,
binders, diaries. Insurance cards. Photos of children
now turned to adults, their faces no longer known.
Sheet music for her childhood lessons, inscribed:
“Sandy--Tempo! Largo!” A card from a fan:
drowsy cat on the front, inside: “Your music
saved my life. I have quit the drugs
and gone home.”

Box upon box--but these boxes
are under another, her husband’s things. All of these
boxes, this miscellany, kindly proffered by Elizabeth,
his second wife, his widow. Just inside his single box,
more carefully prepared than the others, is a letter--
not from here in Australia, but from halfway around
the world, two miles from where I live.
From someone I know, who, like Liz, was luckier
than me, maybe luckier than them:

“Trevor, I was so sorry to hear about Sandy.
She will not be forgotten.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Work, work, work

It's so wrong that I'm thinking "Let's get this out of the way." I did take joy in writing it. I'm just so darn busy.

I guess it's ironic, then, that the Writer's Digest prompt today was "work." I flashed back to my days as a music critic.

One of the most insulting things that happened then: I was at the execrable Nissan Pavilion to review Red Hot Chili Peppers for the Washington Post. I love this band. I didn't love being seated next to this rather chatty dude who, before the show (possibly during Queens of the Stone Age?), was droning on and on to his girlfriend. She finally said, "Be quiet! You're bothering the older lady!"

Whereupon the older lady, acutely uncomfortable, went up the hill to the top of the lawn and enjoyed the rest of the show from there.

I'd like to get this into a real sonnet--when I have time. (This is a second draft. Still putting my half-baked goods out for consumption here, hoping to get credit for palate, recipe, etc.)


As Kiedis flings his hair about the stage,
as lighters catch the weed and raise it up
to lips and lungs that suck the magic in
and folding chairs slam shut as balding dads

(some younger than the band, older than me),
the kids, the hicks, the prettier girls are raptured
flesh and soul, I check my lens and catch
guitar god Frusciante in my sight.

My hips give thrust to Flea’s marrow-deep thrum
and on my tattered pad my pen might drum
like Smith, though half-assed, hardly Smith-worthy,

and all my notes, disposable, will drift
away while all their notes, unseeable,
endure. This second-handiwork: my job.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Twofer Tuesday (not on DC-101)

For Writer's Digest: a haiku and an anti-haiku. I'm not nuts about either of these, so I hope I can do something better here later this evening.

From the new screen porch
Neko sees geese by the creek
Thinks of Nutro Max

Basho's Ambivalence

You wrap your lasso around the meadow
rein it into a garden
and we rejoice at the beauty
of the rope wall


Wrote yesterday's poem, posted it on the Writer's Digest blog, hung on to it in case I had a chance to revise it before putting it on my blog...and then went to bed really early without posting it.

Here it is.

After the Tour

When she comes home she shakes off
the rain and begins again. Like a dog,
like a crocus, like the chorus of a song.
She is naked and new.

Whatever collects on her glittery dress
will be shed with it.
Whatever catches in her pewter-brown hair
will be washed away.

The sorrows and joys within these walls
cut to the bone, but their scars are
a bas-relief, a story told creation by creation,
a pain salved by beauty.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Today I was to write about anger. It was surprisingly difficult. I don't generally write as a direct reaction to a present emotion. It's more like acting. And I guess anger was a place I didn't want to go. I guess I'm not comfortable about it. I can be very angry, sometimes a little disproportionately so. And I find that I am not angry at times when maybe I should be. I have trouble understanding other people's anger.

They say anger and depression are the same thing, or sides of the same coin.

I wrote about dandelions. We got mowed on Thursday. I think it was today that I marveled at the pretty yellow discs on the lawn.

The Dandelion Mother

Every year when it gets just this warm
I raise my thousand fingers through the earth
and birth my golden flowers. I fill each green blanket
with them, just as my cousin fills his black skies
with silver stars. Well, he did his trick once. Me,
I have to repeat myself. Those stompers send
their wheeled bullies out to gobble what I give.
When I feel their teeth against the tips,
my hands curl into fists. I will give again
and again, but for now I crouch into myself,
wondering whom to hate, wondering
what is so wrong with tiny yellow suns
on green sky.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ghosts and deer

Deer Blind

People always talked of hitting deer, chasing them
from the garden, looking for the twin orange lights
of them at roadside. For me, they were a rumor.
They were like ghosts. Then I moved house
to the village on the coast. One fall night, driving home
from a poetry class, I ascended and then, over the crest
of that hill past Bristol, skidded to a stop. It was
a doe, sagging midway and skin over bones elsewhere.
Her face fixed on mine; she made no move to dodge
the SUV. Then, as if the dinner bell rang, she leapt
westward over the gully into the brush.

Two days later, in the selfsame ditch, I saw
an upended carousel horse, I thought, faded tan legs
stuck up akimbo. A twisted head below, black nose
the period to the sentence. The body was whole.
A rare snow fell next day. It was nearly Christmas
when a thaw exposed her again. Won’t the county
clean her up?
I wondered. That task was left to
the turkey vultures, one of whom stared me down
the next Sunday, and two days after that, and
just yesterday, his meal down to bones but still
shimmering with the truth she’d offered me.

Friday, April 17, 2009

All I Want

Today’s prompt: Make a title that starts with “All I Want Is...”

All I Want Is Your Pillowcase

Dear one, please tell these men with their swaggers and badges that
I am no thief. Thieves are strangers. Thieves are greedy, uncaring
swine who don’t even eat the treasures they root out. They are not
followers seeking the sustenance of relics. Furthermore, I would never
break into your house in Topanga Canyon (44 Cherrystone Way, 90290)
or even that king-bedded room at the back of the tour bus. These are
your homes, your private places. I don’t want anything that is yours,
anything you didn’t give on stage. When those bullies, those cretins
found me, you had already risen and gone. I want only that cloth that,
between the post-show drinks with Dirty Dave of Country 92 and
the entry of the cart carrying your eggs Benedict and decaf,

caught your dreams and breath.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The color(s) of soil

Writer's Digest: pick a color and write a poem inspired by it.


the color of under,
a fundament, somber
or thunder

deep within roll
ants and ant-cows,
annelids, rhizomes,
whole worlds of microbes
each with its color, its tone

I hear them all as
a pondering, a wonder:
I pause for

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Altered title

Writer's Digest: Take the title of a poem, then change it slightly and write a new poem with that title.

My source poem title is "The Large Cool Store" by Philip Larkin.

The Small Cool Store

The small cool store where you displayed
your necklaces and earrings
sold coffee, umbrellas, the odd mug or sticker
stamped with an image of the nearest tourist trap.

Your wares were woven, not extruded,
pieced with care and not a little selfish pride.
Life-minutes trickled away as you fed the thread
to each bead. And when

a businesswoman buying scotch tape
would lift one, weigh it, dangling from the stand,
your heart would leap

and then she’d shrug a frown,
tsk at the tag, and drop it to shove
her necessary bucks at you.

You won’t make that mistake again. Love
doesn’t belong side by side with batteries.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Twofer Tuesday

That phrase always makes me expect to hear "Panama" and "Hot for Teacher" back to back.

Today on Writer's Digest: love and anti-love.

Here they are, in the opposite order.

Quilts and Love

It’s traditional, beautiful, but not natural. It requires a lot of work.
It’s a warm comfort. Not too hard to mend, though
you’ll see all the patched places. The worst thing
is how hard it is to clean. Too big for your washer.
Too delicate for industrial machines. Sooner or later,
it’ll be too smelly to leave as is. Take it into the open air;
that can help make it fresher. But you’ll never get out
all the stains. On the whole, maybe it’s best to box it up
and shove it deep under the bed. Best to view it
not as something you touch and use, but a beauty you remember.

Rob’s Class Ring

That ring, a heavy gold token
that fits no finger. Maybe you wore it
back then, before our first date. Now
neither of us would slip it on.
But it hasn’t lost its beauty or its use:

hung in a window
its topaz-glass stone
catches sun

hung around my neck
it beats between my breasts
like a second heart

lain in a shallow catch-all dish on my dresser
it’s that foreign thing I find
with my fingers and feel
a rush of delight:

not mine, not quite yours,
just its own sweet self.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Prompt: "Hobby"


One of these days
she’s gonna drop a stitch and,
picking it up again,
catch her long gray hair

and then bend closer to the needles
and then enter her full mind into creation
and then become Maryland’s only

Easter Monday


He must have been so embarrassed up there,
half-naked, visibly wounded,
that horrible ring on his head. I didn’t know him well,
but I used to see him on the corner,
telling his stories, maybe doing a trick or two.
He never wanted money like so many others.
I think that’s what scared them.

He would have hated all this staring,
the laughing and crying both. This public
humiliation was not his style
of flash. I only ever heard two stories
of his making a spectacle.

Once, he kicked over a table
to shake up those greedy bastards at the savings and loan.
The other time, he waved his hands
over the head of a small girl
and made a clean, bright note come from her mouth.
He continued to gesture, like some lunatic,
coaxing from her a song that shook the temples,
too big for mere earth.

That time, he allowed himself a little bow. I think
his father was pissed off. And then, yesterday,
the sobbing to Dad--I’ll not speak of it again.
It was not his choice to shock. He’d rather
we heard some echo of that song and remembered
what one blessed child of God could do.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"So we decided to...."

So we decided to eat the smallest ones
but we couldn’t decide whether to tell them.

We gathered every scrap of seaweed that swam by,
gave it to them with the last fresh water. We sang them
Christmas songs and the Hokey Pokey.

They turned their faces to the sun
as if it made them bloom. Laughing like
the ship had never sunk, they turned red-brown
as apples. My brother took pity

and told them of their destiny. Shrieking,
they flung themselves into the sea and swam
from our clenching bellies.

Now my brother and I watch each other
with eyes that measure love,
speed, and meat.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Actually, it's dandruff

Planet Hairbrush

what clings to the bristles at
ground level
but the residue of thousands
of thoughts
I might have coaxed
into bloom
were it not for the effort
to smooth
hair bent asunder by dreams.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday on My Mind

That was today's prompt--"Friday." Here's what I did.

Date Night Number One

Did they check the papers
for showtimes at Golgotha,

skip the openers--two dull thieves,
the stuff you see every Friday--

showing up in time
for the top-billed treat,

some sleight-of-hand showoff
who needed to be put in his place

with three spikes and a mallet?
Did they show up late,

snacks in hand, chattering,
to see what would happen?

Did the flankers, the Pips,
pockets of their robes outturned

and drooping like their heads,
provide any show? And when

the headliner murmured,
“It is finished,” did they

raise a flame
and stamp their sandals for an encore?

White Rabbit

Or is it the March Hare who's late?

I wrote two poems today: one for the Writer's Digest prompt ("memory") and one bonus one. I sat down to revise and post them at about 11:40, whereupon I decided that the "memory" poem sucked. So I just wrote another one, totally from scratch. And it might be no better...but I'm tired of excuses.


Sitting under the tulip tree on the school lawn
and talking about Ephesians
you pushed your hair behind one virgin ear
with a stub-nailed finger. The fencing trophies
stayed in your room; your mother wanted
a beauty queen,

going so far as to commission a painting
of the child you never were. Her phantom toddler
bears a golden wimple of hair, a blue dress
above plump knees.

Seventeen years later, as the father foe fell,
mother became the enemy. She fought
your evil love, letter by letter, as you won
match after match against masks. You lay
with a woman who loved you bare.
You resurrected the spirit beneath Paul’s letters,
if not hers.

You always saw me whole, found me steady.
But you contained multitudes you couldn’t see
from that grassy hillside in
your seventeenth year.

This is the other poem I wrote, late in the day. This morning, I heard a poem by Kenneth Hart on the Writer's Almanac on NPR. I was quite taken with his work. So I found another of his poems--"Nat & Forrest"--and did a "write-between-the-lines" exercise with it. The lines I generated led to this poem.

Day Roofers

As high as it is on this
hot, bright God’s-eye perch,
surrounded by heaps of
cracker-dry shingle
and lumber long as a Monday,
we have to hurry
for fear of rain.

We are saving the house,
preserving the family
with galvanized nails
and black tar,
keeping them dry in their beds.
When we are done
the night comes quick:

it drew the dark up to their chins
like an heirloom quilt
studded with stars
that won’t bother them
because our work is solid.

On the ground, weary,
we are not heroes, but men
who sleep in borrowed beds
in the Fellowship Hall,
eat the day-old bread
and watered soup of the white men
who borrowed this land,
built on it,
nailed the roof shut and dry.

I'm really not happy with the way this blog is going right now. I feel a bit like a hack. And I know I'm not a hack; it's just an unusual week. I have to trust that I'll do better soon. Right now it's all I can do to just keep on doing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I was trying to type "Apologies." That's what I got. Maybe they're apologies at the end of something. I hope this isn't the end!

Anyway, I'm just damned sorry that I'm barely managing to commit myself to these poems this time around--mostly because of work. I did today's Writer's Digest prompt, which was about a routine. Naturally, I immediately thought of one of my coworkers, who has the same lunch every day. This isn't quite autobiography, then, but it's certainly informed by life.

On My Return to the Office Cafeteria

First go the imperfections of the skin, excised
with a pocketknife your scalpel. Then the bold slice,
two halves. Then the removal of the seeds
and their tough carpels. Halves become quarters
become eighths, until each morsel
fits a bite. You spear each on the blade’s
business end, take it in your mouth.

We last sat at this table twelve years ago.
Your hair was dry wheat. Now there is just
smooth skin above your careful eyes,
a brown spot here and there on your
precise hands—no impediment to
your daily work. The apple, then the orange.
Then eight ounces of cold water.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


This job is taking it out of me, I tell ya. Nevertheless, I managed to address both Writer's Digest prompts on this "twofer Tuesday." We had "clean" and "dirty." Like yesterday's prompt, these seemed fraught with obvious symbolism, which I tried to dodge, albeit not completely.

These are not a pair.

Surfside Launderette

The Reverend Carlton G. Booze folds my panties
as they come fresh and hot from the Speed Queen.
I guess he lost his church. His is the afternoon shift,
between the narrowfaced scold who watches judge shows
and the five-hundred-pound man. He wears a small cross
on his plaid flannel. I guess he’s touched a better hem
than mine. I try to get there late enough to miss him
so we don’t join eyes as he handles my garments.
The last time, I caught the tag end of a chat
with some wind-reddened sailor: “Yeah, I remember
a time when Booze was my last name, too.”

The Reverend granted
an indulgent smile, passed me the basket:
six days of sweat, cat hair, tomatoes
gone wherever the unwanted things go.

Poetry in the Analog Age

It’s going to be a mess:
you will grow, on your
right middle finger, a mound,
or sometimes a dent,
fierce red or white as bone.
These stains leach from the words
that you press into your fingers.
Along the lateral edge
of the index: a blue streak.
Your palm will catch a painless bruise,

To change your mind requires
tight spikes, like those found
in the record of an anxious heart,
beat out over your cursive. Or,
if you didn’t trust ink to begin with,
a filthy snowfall of pink motes
will cover you waist to knees.

You should have kept things as they were:
immaculate, digital. Instead you
chose to follow the masters,
you grubby romantic.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Thank God for the Writer's Digest prompts. Today was my first day at a new full-time job, and I could barely patch together more than will to write this poem. Without a prompt, I might have come up empty.

Today we were to write about something missing. I struggled with this one because I didn't want the "missing-ness" to be the subject of the poem. One could argue that it's the subject, or a subject, of this poem, but I don't think it's the point of the poem.

Marriage, Middle Age

It’s the age of losing things: the name
of that teacher we shared in ninth grade,
the water bill, house keys. Once
we both lost our keys, the same day,
and someone else had to let us into
our own home. Our marriage license:
that went missing in the Reagan years,
along with my perfect dental record
and your twenty-twenty vision.
We don’t quarrel over what slips away,
whether or not it returns. Risky stock.
My wedding ring. Three of our four parents.
Naïve hopes. As long as we both
grow wooly and dim side by side,
as long as we balance our losses, misses,
forgettings, we will have this.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Today's Writer's Digest prompt: Write about a landmark. This seems like a prompt that will lead to a lot of really lousy poems. It's so hard to do this without touching on Big Topics, possibly in a hamhanded way.

I'm sure I haven't dodged that criticism, but I tried to anticipate it with some touches of the unexpected.

This is not autobiography. That said, we did have a war memorial in Takoma Park (though not in Spring Park), and I was once skinny enough to slip through the gaps in it. And I did, and do, care deeply about the roots of trees. And I guess it's fair to say I've got some conflicted feelings about war. But "tomboy"? Yeah, not me.

War Monument, Spring Park

I played there when I was nine,
slipped my skinny tomboy self
between the four pillars. Three openings,
like doors on “Let’s Make a Deal.”
What would be back there? The stuff
not worth showing off: poky shrubs,
chewed-up walnut shells, ants
and potato beetles. Out front,
a white apron of stone, making sure
we knew the city called this place special.
Flanking, left and right: tall trees.
I clutched the bark as I walked
root to root, slowing at the pale stone.
Nineteen steps of reverence before
nature was allowed to wave
its branches again. I believed
the dead were down there, you see:
four special heroes, joined by war.
When I stepped, then, onto the next
knuckle of wood, I imagined its finger
grew down into the purple heart
of one of those lost men. Sometimes
I’d hop a little, give him a tickle.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


The Writer's Digest prompt for today is to write about an animal. I was all set to write about paramecia until I took a nap and thought of this one while dozing off.

Moving the Aquarium Downstairs

The Great Lifter
has taken us in his arms. My universe
and I are descending
wave by quiver. The green dead man

tilts toward the pink
castle. That chest by his feet
has no treasure. I checked. Anyway,
my treasure falls

from above, from the hands of
The Great Lifter. We who are
caught between heaven
and the muck that stirs

as our universe settles here in this
brighter place, we who
swirl in the green-gray life,
we take power from His manna

and dance here between until we go
the way of all fish: not down
like the stiff man and
his empty box, but

up, as she drifted,
that sad yesterday, up
to the border, to be caught up
by The Great Lifter.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Problem With Chickpeas

I wrote this one for the Writer's Digest challenge (prompt: "The Problem With..."), but also for my friend Joyce, a medieval scholar, lover of Rumi, and all-around great gal.

The Problem With Chickpeas
for Joyce Lionarons

The problem with chickpeas isn’t
their mutability. Waxy-hard faces turn
soft in the rising embrace
of bubbles. They will give themselves
for hummus, lay down their lives
to save a sentient protein. They have

many names: garbanzo, cicer, Indian pea,
chana, sanaga pappu. They were prayer beads
for Rumi, though their name to him
is hidden in thick pages. Small imperfect
spheres, collapsing planets, transformative
clay: their problem is not the ways

they change. It is that they are
humble flesh, cheap in the can, and we cooks
expect so much from them.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An unconnected string

About a year ago, I tried to write a poem about a guitar-string bracelet.

Here's what arrived in today's mail. It's from a company called WearYourMusic. This one is made from a string played by Richard Thompson on his "1000 Years of Popular Music" UK tour. (Which means I probably never heard this particular string in action.)

It's pricey as all get-out, but the money goes to the fine folks at the Organization for Tropical Studies. And my gosh, it makes me happy to have it resting lightly on my arm.

It's got a little smudge on it--you can see it in the picture. I wonder what music made that smudge?

I paid a bit extra for the charm, which is a small guitar pick.


Do you know the term "mondegreen"? It refers to a misheard lyric, as in the folk song "...and Lady Mondegreen" for "and laid him on the green."

I was just fiddling with words here and came up with the phrase "soap on the water." (No fire in the sky for now.) I was looking out at the gray flatness of Broadwater Creek and imagining it frothy. So this is a bit of whimsy.

Soap on the Water

minnows flirt with bubbles
try to pop inside
for private pleasures

snakes slip into the ripwrap
and out again into eddies
stirring the pot

under the feet of the mute swans
crabs crawl up from the bay grasses
to wash their cracked hands

the osprey looks down
from atop the flagpole
and cackles


Day two of the Writer's Digest challenge. Today it's to write "an outsider poem."

I went nearly 100% autobiographical on this one (a first draft) and also went back to that familiar ground of musician/audience.

I changed a couple of small things after I posted to the challenge website--one more word in the last line (and I'm still not satisfied with it), as well as some italics I couldn't use in the comment field over there.

The Women’s Showers at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention

A one-pound coin does not weigh a pound, but it has more weight
than the Yankee-come-lately stuff of home. I am led into
the boys’ locker room, once a forbidden zone. There are no boys.
We are women and girls: tanned and toasted, white as ducks,
smacked with red here and there, under a glaze of muddy sweat.

The headlining band has endured forty years, and the gods
like to shake them up. Quarrels, debts, divorces, flat tires
on five continents. Two deaths. They shine down on these hills
like gods, or like people who shower on marble, sleep
under down. But I have seen them, just the other side

of the security fence, in tents no better than ours, chasing
the grandkids, closing their eyes. The bench is chilly.
We are half-wrapped in beach towels, waiting our turns.
Some modest; most not. Wrinkled tattoos, firm flesh
pierced and shining, hair wild by nature or will.

We are our own country these four days. Over the tinny speakers
flow back song after song from previous incarnations
of those old, old boys. Please, Mister Lacey… We approach
the steam singing, swaying, towels falling, ready
to be clean, to go back, cheering, into the English dirt.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My first for the Writer's Digest challenge

The prompt: "Origins." Feel free to interpret the prompt loosely, they said. So I wrote the title and then all the rest of it in one go. Tinkered with line breaks. That's it.

Where Babies Come From

That was, in fact, a roll of dimes in his Haggar pocket
at the junior prom. They both came stag,
after talking it over at the youth group. He bruised her thigh
doing the bump to “Brick House.” She didn’t know for three days.

He tore her dress when the music changed
to “Shout” and his size 13 caught the hem. Apologized right then,
mid-hop, said it wouldn’t happen again. Hands flung high,
half-transported, half worried about the whitish stains
of stick deodorant, they knew themselves
to be making memories. They did not do the Gator.

By the punch bowl, sweating, sucking their ice
like a menthol balm, they talked about
Anderman’s pop quiz on Vietnam. Was it a war,
or just a criminal possession? Would they ever get out?
Would the horrors ever come east, to Oregon, to home?

In Eileen’s basement, a half-giddy impromptu party.
Spin the bottle. His lips did not open. She felt
the shock of tongue from Bobby, the guy in the science lab
who fed the snake, the golden hamsters, the fishes.

...And Call Me in the Morning

I also plan to do the poem-a-day challenge that Writer's Digest has set up. If it's like it was last April, we'll be getting prompts and then post our poems on Robert Lee Brewer's blog.

I seem to have jumped the gun by staying up late; there's no prompt yet for April 1.

I guess as the month goes on I'll end up doing more than a poem a day; I imagine I'll use his prompts to post poems over there, but I might want to do different ones here.

The terrifying task of my first post-MFA-program-rejection poem complete, I'm now going to try to get some sleep. This nocturnal life is untenable; next Monday I start a full-time job like most normal people. The last time I had such a job, I was extremely emotionally healthy and mostly uncreative. The day the job all went to hell, I wrote two poems on the Metro platform after walking out of the place.

I see what Thomas Lux says about a certain degree of tension or discomfort being useful to the creative process. I also see that Ted and Sylvia's son just succumbed to the family curse, that the poets in popular culture are all louts or suicides (or both), and that I really do like a normal life watching sitcoms and staying away from the psych ward. Health is very important for an artist.

Finding Concord

I didn't think I could do this. So much self-pity, self-anger, jealousy, gene-deep gloom. But I stayed up late, into that single-digit time I think of as "the wee smalls," when my inhibitions are lowest.

And I just wrote this one. This is approximately a second draft.

The dedication is problematic. I'm not sure if it speaks the truth about my feelings about Dave Carter; I think he deserves better than this. But he's an example of an artist who died too suddenly and whose words were then interpreted as prophetic. Go listen to the song "When I Go" and feel the pressure build up in your eyes, especially if you knew him.

Anyway, I'll leave him in there for now. "The Moon and Seven" is what he, or maybe his partner in all things Tracy Grammer, said was to be the title of their next album. That was a few days before his death; I was at his last concert. Later, Tracy released a collection of their later songs called Seven Is the Number.

for Dave Carter

We find our peace in buttonholes and shanks, dress you up
in that black suit you found at St. Vincent de Paul
(once a bargain, maybe a costume,
now a meditation on the open hand,
emptied into the poorbox,
where once bloomed
your pen).

We need it unraveled, stitched straight: what that was
when you made seven words dance—for sins,
we ask? For weekdays? For veils?
The moon and seven some phrase
from the far valley where
your dreams traveled.

Swift birds became eagles, or buzzards.
Red flowers--chest-high, heart-deep--
broke the pine lid. Was yours the tongue
of an angel?

Or were you only whistling, jangling
syllables like pennies in the palm
after milk and meat are paid for?

Death made the jabber a riddle:
sewed word to deed to destiny.
You aren’t around to witness
what you had meant to say
when you were saying
I need a rhyme
for rain.