{robin’s song: reprise}

robin’s song

“to the artist, to make the most of time”

a little bird once laid on me
intelligence in four short words
“be here right now.” philosophy
astonishing if not absurd –

we’re always Here. we’re always Now,
but humans linger in the past
endless Regretfuls we allow
to turn Today to overcast

so mindfulness in pithy phrase
may Zen-pretentiousness suppose,
but practice it – the mind’s malaise
will fade to nothing, decompose

friend Robin sang and told a True
I strive for all my waking days:
“take risks! make messes! and pursue
both Love and Art, without delay.”

I carry the card I received from Robin Smith at the end of April, and read it from time to time. “Are you writing?” she asked. That’s how she ended every note, email, or card. Am I writing? Yes. It’s hard some days, and I think, The market is so weird right now; I’m not going to sell this, no one wants to hear this type of life…, but that isn’t her question, is it?

Are you writing? Are you refusing to do anything but be in the moment, and put it on the page? Then, you’re doing the job.

Our Jules did Robin proud in a profoundly moving Horn Book tribute. Sometimes having the right words is itself a gift. ♥

{weepies}

This week, I’ve been unable to read a book without crying all over it. I am reading a lot of middle grade books in preparation for imitating-my-betters and trying to write some this summer, and …wow.

Oakland Museum of California 28

If you read a certain kind of middle grade books (READ: Old School), there seem to be a lot of Adventures, a lot of Doing Things and running around here and there and maybe seeing a ghost or finding a witch (and discovering she isn’t one). It’s about misunderstandings and opportunities – and all those growing up things that you do. However, I don’t remember most of the middle grade books I read hitting me like this. There was a metric ton of historical fiction, all Arthurian and Eurocentric history, and then there were the classroom books – the DEAR MR. HENSHAW/Beezus-and-Ramona/ Judy Blume types of books, including stuff like THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT or THE GREAT BRAIN – zany, funny, weird, slice-of-life middle school. Add to that ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY and A BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and there you find books that are emotional, but in the accepted way of the-teacher-assigned-this-and-I-know-the-dog-dies (Yeah, and I’m looking at you, SOUNDER and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS). Betsy Byars’ SUMMER OF THE SWANS did hit me emotionally – but I mostly remember reading wonderingly about the little brother character in the book, because he was developmentally disabled, and we just didn’t see a lot of books about kids with differences. (Until high school, and then there was that one dude in GRAPES OF WRATH, and that other dude in FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, and don’t get me started on LORD OF THE FLIES or that bunch of books written by social workers, like A CHILD CALLED ‘IT’ which, honestly, what was THAT all about???)

I think if I’d read the books as a child which I’ve read this week, they would have been incredibly comforting to me. Perhaps rather than middle grade books being different these days, maybe the level of genuineness and frankness of writers is more acceptable now. Rita Williams-Garcia’s ONE CRAZY SUMMER trilogy set in 1960’s Oakland, Brooklyn and Alabama touch on themes like being responsible for siblings when you oughtn’t be, and the horrific unfairness of some adults. Shannon Hale’s REAL FRIENDS broke my heart with its depiction of anxiety and loneliness. There’s a silver lining, of course – bad times don’t last, but I think I was a kid who really needed to be reminded of that.

I haven’t quite connected the dots just yet as to how one becomes brave enough to put that much of themselves just out there, on the page, but I’m working at it. On this rainy June afternoon, it feels like it just might be within reach.

So, that’s me just now; how are you?

{poetry friday: the p7 shovel gold}

When they invented the sestina, indeed, the resultant yowling by Aquitanian poets throughout Europe was no doubt noteworthy… but that was before they invented the Golden Shovel…


The Golden Shovel’s title enlarges the idea of tribute, of “shoveling” the golden bits of another poem for reuse. First, a poet takes an admired line, then, keeping the words in order, uses the words from this line as line endings in a new poem of their own creation. Finally, the poem reveals their new creation, and credits the old.

We chose the hardest poem to work with, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty.” You remember the tongue-twister that you utterly failed to memorize in the seventh grade for speech class?

Yeah, that one. (What? Was it only me?):

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
        And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
        With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

Once I got over the shrieking horror of How am I supposed to work with compounds like ‘chestnut-falls’??? Is that one word, or two???, I began to figure out what this poem was – and what it was not. Foremost, it was not a rewrite of Hopkins’ original. In Terrence Hayes’ original poem, “Golden Shovel,” based on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” (1959) he took her words and whipped them into a whole new dish. The poignancy and bravado of a nameless black boy cresting the hill of adulthood is certainly there, but he’s not leaning heavily on the bravado of school-skipping adolescents hanging out at a pool hall. Once I stopped trying to rewrite “Pied Beauty,” my process cleaned up a whole lot… though I was still tempted by it. As you can see, I took for use the first line of Hopkins’ exultant poem:

Photos via Wikipedia

lilium fatale

there blooms the lady, gaudy in her glory
as a trumpet blast. Bright freckles massed might be
music, presaging summer’s solo. Oh, to
grace a garden, now that spring is here. Does God
dream in stargazers? Let no beauty be for
gotten: strumpet striped, dewy, sunlight dappled;
dizzy, drenched, these senses! delight in all things.

   ~ after Gerard Manley Hopkins

Moving past my usual squeamishness about blank verse, with its resultant no-rules/no-brakes feeling, I wondered, next, if it was possible to add a little lightness to these poems. Oddly for a tribute form, most I’ve seen are quite serious in content. While the rules in a Golden Shovel freed me from the tyranny of end-line rhyme, I found that thematically, with this poem specifically, thematic variance was nearly impossible. (I’ll be interested in seeing how my other Sisters managed this — I could not.) I’m just not sure how else I could have used these particular lines, although the second half of the poem might have .

star talk

“we’re made of star-stuff.” this, a dazzling sendup of us all;
humanity made luminosity. great, glowy things
reactive (con)fusions, ticking like a Geiger counter,
our radiance cosmic, scintillating & original
yes, we’re stars… but, mostly quarks: odd parts in a box marked ‘spare;’
we broke the mold. we’re distinct, authentic, genuine… strange.

   ~ with genuine affection for the brilliantly strange Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

My one regret is running out of time to try for the last two lines (despite what Laura was told, the last two words constitute no challenge at all, thank you) – but maybe someday!


With such a busy month, we had zero time for collaboration, so like me, I know you’re dying to see what Sara (who is in NM with her kids just now, so may post later next week), Tricia, Laura, Kelly, & Liz are shoveling up this week between commencement, travel, and other ceremonies. Andi’s not with us this month, but we know she is reading and being filled. She will be back. More Poetry Friday goodness to dig your teeth into is found at Buffy’s Blog.

{pfft, may}

*tap tap*

This thing still on?

Och, this month. This month, in my circle, brought unseasonable weather, flat tires, abrupt job losses, cancers, heart weirdness, travel, ocular migraines, suicide, allergies, a major anniversary, and a whole lot of book rejections. In the larger world, it brought such politics as to set one’s teeth on edge, a redefinition of the word “sanity” and moments to check in with each other, as incidents in the news brought us to bought nausea and tears. Definitely a month wherein one takes stock of one’s mental health.

How you doin’?

I’m reevaluating my religion/faith/denomination, re-examining my abilities to write contemporary fiction, and contemplating my potential to say anything of worth. It’s, in many ways, just another day on the farm, but each round of this kind of thinking moves me… some direction.

How about you?

We learn things, through these revelatory moments in our lives. Trees age in circles, tides push us out, and draw us in again, moment by moment, step by step, always moving somewhere both familiar and new. I feel like I am moving both closer to my real self, and further out into the sea.

I don’t practice Judaism, but follow author and Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on Twitter because she is deep, and we all need a rabbi occasionally, for our mental health (I’d say a priest, except you don’t get girl priests, do you, so… *shrug*). She said something the other day, referencing counting off the days (roughly forty-nine of them, I believe, between the second day of Passover and Shavuot) before the celebration of the giving of the Law (from Moses at Sinai, just to catch everybody up) that resonated with me about Revelation – about things being revealed in due time. About our process, about waiting and being. About, as will always make me think of my buddy Robin, being here NOW.

All these days of counting–the journey from the Red Sea to Sinai–have been to help prepare us for Revelation. Insofar as we can ever be prepared. (Spoiler alert: we can’t.) All we can do is wait in anticipation and hope of being in a place where we’re capable of hearing the voice of God. Maybe that’s a still small whisper inside our intuition. Maybe it’s big and dramatic. But we have to be in a space where we can hear it. Maybe that’s a space of readiness from spiritual discipline. Maybe you’re torn open by grief and able to hear stuff that you usually don’t. Maybe you’re able to love or forgive in a new way and that accidentally opens up this other thing that is actually the same thing. That is, love and forgiveness and God or the divine or the holy or sacred or whatever? All kinda the same stuff. Imho. Ymmv.

Anyway. Tomorrow night is a time of exquisite openness. Attunement. Listening. Receiving. A time to hear what you need to do–which may be (often is–sorry) very different from what you *want*. Needs are inconvenient. The place God is calling you to might not be the fantasy script you’ve been playing out in your head. It might require sacrifice, loss, growth, and deep discomfort in the process of becoming the holiest version of yourself. (Spoiler alert: it’s always process.)

Revelation is terrifying, every single time. Ever read Exodus 19-20? Go look again. That’s some scary shizz there. Revelation is not for lightweights, y’all. You have to be brave enough to hear what God is telling you. The truth of your life. What the cost is to become the person you need to be. (Obligatory gif: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”) People tune out all the time because they don’t want to hear. Our phones are extra popular for that now, but it’s been true forever. Shavuot is the holiday of tuning in. Shutting up and listening and getting your instructions. You can figure out what to do with them later. (Once you hear them, you can’t un-hear them, tho. No amount of drink or drugs or sex or Candy Crush in the world can fix that, really.)

Are you ready? Are you scared? Are you willing? Are you open?”

I hate this treading water bit of life, this sense of standing in a boat while it’s being sloshed from stem to stern, and we’re just trying to keep our balance. And yet – it’s been a month of unpacking some things, in between bouts of flailing about and wondering if I’m doing anything right at all. I sense the answers may be just around the corner.

Until then, we wait. We listen.

Ready, though scared. Willing. Open.

{pf: p7 attempts instruction poems}

Offensive Mugs 2

Ah, welcome, beautiful May! Now, let us go back to bed.

Another month, another Poetry Project assignment. Laura’s assignments are always bound to be a challenge, as she is a poetry teacher, and can back up her suggestions with lesson plans. This month, we were tasked with writing instruction poems relating to springtime. From my observation, ‘Things To Do’ poems are typically unrhymed lists with at most some internal rhythm, but mostly descriptive turns of phrase. They’re close enough to blank verse for me to get twitchy, so I, of course, quickly imposed some rules.

I am not the only flouter of custom, I hasten to point out. Tricia uses rhymed couplets to weave a perfect poetic circle. Sara’s stunning beauty just goes its own way entirely. October is organized by Kel, while Laura gives summer that style it so clearly lacks (swanning in at half-past July, draped in spidersilk). Liz joins in to celebrate May, while Tricia’s take is beautifully bittersweet. This month, Andi joins us in spirit.

This week, I tried to enter my Zen and not murder-flail any poor creatures to death, because the moths and mayflies, they are thick just now. Unfortunately, the first being my Zen met was a black widow which somehow joined me on the front room couch. Tech Boy dispatched this whilst giving a brief biology lecture on how to recognize venomous spiders. Right. Back to the murder-flailing.

what to do if you’re a house desirous of spring cleaning

Settle in, so doors scrape open oddly,
& windows stick. Array awkward angles
– ceiling, sills – in webs. S c a t t e r c l u t t e r b r o a d l y.
Jam junk drawers. Stir cables into tangles.

Beneath the beds, bale downy puffs of dust.
Cultivate, in corners, the crisp carapace
of beetles, long expired. Mice are a must –
a nest works best. (Tuck in two, just in case.)

Spatter grimy glass with fingerprint stamps,
& construct shapes – like clouds – in carpet stains.
Attracting arachnids, or mildew from damp
Counts as a coup in a cleaning campaign.

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted at the heart-lifting alphabetical blog of Jama-jams Rattigan, home of the cute, and the cookie. Beware of her Tuesday posts; she will bankrupt us all.

{#npm’17: still babbling & strewing flowers}

It has been weeks since we’ve gone a week without moisture. An afternoon shower. An overnight sprinkle. A heavy mist which turns into precipitation. We drove through the much talked-reported on desert bloom. This picture was taken on the Grapevine, which was colored up and gorgeous. April showers bring May flowers, mayflies, and allergies. Not complaining though. Just shaking my head that they forecast a return of this in autumn. Wow.

Central California Driving 46

parting gifts

an ill-behaved child
el niño, with moods fractious
leaves scattered blossoms

making a play for the golden state

rain-kisses valleys
’til her hills sport team colors
poppy gold and green

A good way to close out Arbor Day weekend as well as National Poetry Month. Check in next Friday for the Poetry Seven attempting yet another assignment poem… so far it’s going… interestingly!

{#npm’17: while we’re waiting}

One of the Mr. Rogers songs I remember from when Niecelet was tiny was something along the lines of “let’s think of something to do, while we’re waiting.” A very simple song for impatient little people who want everything now – allegedly it’s a song for small children. Realistically, impatient people? Are most of us.

It’s been almost six months since Tech Boy hasn’t had full-time work. We’re blessed to be in a position that it’s okay, but it does make us more careful, which is a necessary pain. Waiting is part of the job, for him. For me, that’s the case as well – waiting to see who will say what about a manuscript. Waiting to see if I have new idea, or can finish the one I just started. Waiting to see if I can pull of this miracle one more time.

I loathe waiting.

untidy mind

awash in a sea of paper slips
my desk is discovered:
the dictates of the day
          groceries
          cumin, chamomile, mint – ?
          allergens to milk and strawberries?
retain reminders
          email Sara:
          call Dr. M
          what is cousin jupiter’s real name?
of the chaotic contents contained
a planned productivity –
administered order,
borne on the backs
of envelopes

Today, it’s cleaning off my desk. Tomorrow, my purse… Monday, the world. Or something like that.

{#npm’17: vicious flowers}

I admit to a tiny bit of fear of mantises. The 2400 species which make up Mantodea all have raptorial forelegs, stereo vision, and massive jaws that make them a fearsome predator for insects (as well as small lizards and frogs, in some areas). I was pinched rather firmly by a mantis one as a child, so seeing them as an adult still gives me a bit of a turn – although my mother, God bless her, still loves to catch them in a jar and find a bunch of children to tell about them. (Once a teacher, always a teacher…) I think the way they stalk things is worrying, and the fact that they pounce – and have stabby claws on their legs — is both fearsome and wonderful. Add to that their sexual cannibalism, and ((O_o))… no. (And we kids are taught that they pray! Hah. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has another take on that, which cracks me up.)

More unnerving than other mantises are the so-called flower mantises. Biologists call what flower mantises do “aggressive mimicry.” It’s when a predatory insect or animal uses something benign as a lure — or when what you think is a gorgeous orchid rips the head off of another flower its just mated, and eats it.

Do you see it? It’s not even trying to not look floral. At all.

Wikipedia Commons photo by Philipp Psurek

The poem below is attributed to Ogden Nash, though I have found no provenance for that – but it’s the sort of doggerel he would write about bugs. Note that if indeed Nash wrote this, he was mistaken, for it is the grasshopper, not the mantis, who is of the phylum Orthoptera… the mantis is Arthropoda. Yes, and now you know.

Praying Mantis

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
Glimpse the grin, green metal mug
that masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, “Lord deliver us!”

Indeed!

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Teaching Authors.

{#npm’17: subtraction & excuses}

I realized the other day that the last book-related event I attended was… in…2010. I tend to make lightning visits to the library, I’ve missed the last two readings I was meant to attend, for reasons of illness, hailstones (no, really), and plain forgetting; I didn’t have a book out when ALA was forty minutes away, I knew the author but I didn’t quite know where I was going… The list goes on; “reasons” sounding a great deal like excuses.

I’m going to a book-related thingy today, though – because I’m being carried along by Tech Boy’s enthusiasm. I really don’t want to. And yet, I know this of myself: I hate the idea of going; the pangs of dread as I get dressed, the dismay as I accessorize, the teeth-grinding anxiety on the drive down… and usually, most of the time with rare exceptions, I find something to enjoy. Once I arrive and hit the last hurdle, forcing myself to walk through the door into a room packed with voices and people, things are fine – I’m entertained, I’m amused, I’m relieved that I went. It just takes wading through the other things my brain throws at me first.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel worth all of that effort, and I find myself deleting, subtracting one thing, two things, three, and soon I’ve managed to take everything away from myself. Introverts do like people and social situations, just in measured doses, so all the erasure doesn’t make me happy, either (it makes the neurotic anxious me happy though, but that’s another story). Sometimes this subtraction is just too easy to continue once you’ve started…

That Will to Divest

Action creates
a taste
for itself.
Meaning: once
you’ve swept
the shelves
of spoons
and plates
you kept
for guests,
it gets harder
not to also
simplify the larder,
not to dismiss
rooms, not to
divest yourself
of all the chairs
but one, not
to test what
singleness can bear,
once you’ve begun.

– Kay Ryan

I’m finding this goes for packing, too…

{#npm’17: over the next hill}


I admit, I’m cheating with a haiku from 2014, but my mind is pretty distracted at the moment; D is still job hunting and has had interviews with a firm in Limerick, Ireland, and we’re flying out to Seattle at the beginning of next month. Last time we got so close to moving, we actually got rid of furniture; this time, who knows what’s over the next hill?

Crockett 10

so many adventures could come today

sheer nosiness will
get you up, and peering
over the next hill