{to a racist lady at church}

MEMO

TO: YOU, LADY

FROM: Me, Tanita

I know you want to argue that what you said wasn’t racist. NO. We are not doing that.

I wasted HOURS this weekend wondering how I should have responded to your comments, hours wondering if I had somehow inadvertently created an atmosphere that felt safe and comfortable for your inimical remarks. I agonized on how I should have worded my push back, crafted a five-page letter explaining and discussing with imaginary you how what you said was distasteful and discouraging.

And yet, I doubt you thought about your throwaway comment ONCE. As Toni Morrison said, ” the very serious function of racism is distraction.”

How deeply I resent you for wasting my time – in the sanctuary, no less. Please do me the courtesy of never speaking to me again. No, seriously, please.

Be blessed, as I wish every person to be, but also? Be far, SO very, very far away from me.

Let there be spaces in our togetherness that last for miles.

{p7: if it walks like a snake… something’s wrong}

Happy sneaky pre-autumn!

It’s been a wildly busy month thus far — I feel like a got a few things done, namely putting up some peach butter and drying a lot of peaches and freezing some other peaches… and our chorus resumed this week, so I am already hip-deep in new music. It’s all in Spanish, so I’m doubly glad I kept up with my Spanish studies this summer, and I’m understanding at least 80% of what I’m reading! This is super exciting! (Never fear I’m smug; my pronunciation probably sounds like I’m speaking intoxicated Welsh.)

The only snake in the garden is… well, there’s not one, unfortunately, that’s the problem. I actually ADORE snakes, even the ones that surprise me in the yard (I KNOW. I’ve not yet met a poisonous one in the yard, but even then, we’ll probably just respectfully leave each other alone). Laura’s challenge this month was for us to use a snake metaphor we haven’t used before, in a poem maxing out at eight lines.

This was DAUNTING. I’ve used every “narrow fellow in the grass” metaphor that I could think of before. I once wrote a sonnet to my snake. I didn’t know that I could come up with something new.

We didn’t share our process as a group, so this month, every single Poetry Peeps poem is a happy surprise to me, too. Kel’s all snaked-out and will join us again later, but Laura started us off sweetly, and then Andi surprised herself, Sara brought the weather, Rebecca saw snakes everywhere, Tricia got technical, and Liz slid in before the finish line.

Incidentally, Poetry Friday is hosted by Sylvia and Janet at Poetry for Children right here, and did you see the faculty for the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), biennial conference???? Our very own Princess Liz will take part, as well as some other really special poets, including Naomi Shihab Nye, Jacqueline Woodson and Traci Sorrell!!! WOW.


When I’m stumped for poem topics, I think about what’s new with me. As I’ve mentioned, we moved this summer and we’re around the corner from a high school, a block away from an elementary school, and a block and a half away from a junior high. It’s nice to go on my walk while others are trudging to zero period, secure in the knowledge that I will never, ever, ever face zero period again… *Ahem.* As I was saying, living so school-adjacent is entirely new, and so I thought of what I could do with that… and somehow add snakes.

BEGINNING

A shrewdness of discerning tweens
A scamper of their anxious folks
A freshness of “first day!” school scenes
A catch-up made of snark and jokes

A schedule labyrinthine as snakes
Stumbling cross-campus, end to end
A tiredness heavy as lead —
Ends all first days. Thank God for bed.

It was a minimum day, but even so, you could see the difference between kids walking to school, and walking home. They were BEAT. I’m sure the teachers were, too – I remember that feeling, and salute you all who felt it a couple of weeks ago.

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ENDING

From Mission Peak the sun sinks low
Final salute to end of day.
Fog, coiled cool like nestled snakes
Encircles foothills and the Bay.

Outstretched, a shadow’s arms yawn wide
Offers of rest, and work to cease.
Breeze-ruffled leaves with night scents sigh
As twilight’s blueing light breathes peace.

I can feel the season changing – the overcast morning and the cooling evening. Some of you can feel other nastier things, mainly high winds and oppressive rain. Be well, East Coast friends. A peaceful weekend with the grace of rest to you all.

{sensitivity, cultural portrayal, and revisions}

A morning near the end of the last gasp of my revision:

It’s been an interesting process to me with my newest work in progress to use a sensitivity reader in conjunction with a publishing company. While I have used one before – a previous manuscript included me hiring someone from The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) to check out a black character with albinism – I’ve never had one paid for by someone other than me, nor have I ever dipped into trying to portray a culture wholly other than my own. My other character was black – I can write a black person of at least similar class and education as my own. Writing someone from an Asian culture with which I thought I was familiar has been a revelation. My reader was positive – I hadn’t done anything wrong, exactly, but I hadn’t been more than not disappointing.

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Cultural representation is …tricky.

What we may think of as just… tchotchkes in someone’s house, for instance, might be a representation of cultural pride. What we might assume is just a stereotype of ‘everyone from this place eats this food,’ may be, in fact, another touchstone that connects a people to a place of importance to them, their parents, their grandparents, and generations back. Shoes left outside? That’s what people do. Also what I found out? What I thought was going to be a slam dunk… isn’t.

I’m grateful for my reader’s direct words. She was straightforward and helpful – but I find I’m smarting a bit that I’m not as smart about this as I thought I’d be. I’ve never served as a sensitivity reader – the potential for emotional labor and the recoil from a bad rep and a tone deaf author is REAL – but someone bravely and graciously stepped up to the plate for me, and I’m so grateful to this person I want to send them flowers. Reading for cultural representation is a difficult job.

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Because what is cultural representation, really, but a collection of… little details that are nearly imperceptible to outsiders? It’s hard to put a finger on, hard to define, hard to say “THIS” is cultural rep done right, and “THIS” is not… because everyone’s personal culture, expectations, educational levels, class and aspirational class is wildly variant. For instance: I grew up in a home with the Ten Commandments on the wall – and a framed copy of “Amazing Grace,” while other black Americans grew up with photographs on the wall of Martin Luther King, Jr., “black Jesus,” the Lord’s Prayer, and during the holidays, “black Santa.” We were vegetarian in the 80’s when few people were, and my parents were vegan off and on in our lives – so while I’ve never had fried chicken, have no particular opinions on potato salad, baked mac and cheese and dislike bbq sauce, I’ve had tofu and vegetarian gumbo my whole life. We were discouraged from using slang or swearing, but had a family… shorthand dialect of things probably only we said. I have some family members who can fall into African American Vernacular English with ease, and some who have no intuitive understanding of its rules.

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I know that some people – and I’ve seen sweeping statements like this routinely on social media – don’t believe that a black character can be correctly portrayed if they do not eat the “right” foods, use AAVE, and have none of the “right” pictures. And yet… not only were those images not in my house, they were absent in the home of my maternal grandmother as well. (My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, had… hundreds of porcelain roosters, a prayer card Jesus looking kind of emaciated, and sad clowns on velvet in the bathroom… her cultural aesthetic being another blog post ENTIRELY.)

Writing a cultural representation which would feel “normal” to me would have walls crammed with bad family photos and a couple of religious touchstones, but nothing representative of “black America,” exactly, except… a washboard. My great-grandmother’s washboard, which she still used well into the time when people had washers, hangs as a reminder of the extreme poverty of the past, but the assurance that one can manage. At least, that’s what I take it to be – a reminder that Miss Emily made do with her own two hands. Is that properly “black?” Is that Americana? Cultural representation is personal – and specific. And honestly? There is no way to get it right for everyone. NONE. There is nothing that will protect the writer from criticism and disappointing someone.

That is quite a thing to sit with, friends.

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So, we sit with it.

And then, we take the word of the lived experiences of others and spoon in generous helpings of their good sense, and … leap alone into the ether from there.

Now all of my own nitpicky little revisions have been laid to rest, and today I embark on the most difficult ones of all… And yet? Looking more closely and trying to see through a cultural lens just provides opportunity to lean in… and open my eyes wider. I am grateful to my reader for another chance to get it (closer to, in the neighborhood of, adjacent to) right.

{p7 takes on the ekphrastic}

Happy August!

Today’s Frost quote reminded me of the poem “Mending Wall,” and the repeated thought, “Something there is that does not love a wall, and wants it down.” Just now I’m working on the season ticket brochure for the chorus in which Himself and I sing, and our first concert next season focuses on Central and South America – and the hope of creating a bridge beyond our experiences rather than celebrating a wall between us and what is unfamiliar and new, thus intimidating. Something there is that does not love a wall…

This month, we’ve Sara Lewis Holmes’ gorgeous photographic eye to thank for the image accompanying today’s poem. Sara took pictures of her trip to Israel and selected three from which we were to create a poem in any form. Look for Sara’s gorgeous open-hearted paean here. Here Laura turns a bowl skyward, while Liz explores our common humanity. Tricia surprises us – and herself, while Kelly crows a bit. Andi adds airy caverns here, and we may find Rebecca later.


The location in this picture is the wall surrounding what is known as the Temple Mount, where the old, old, old temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in something like 700 C.E. The remaining wall, where traditionally Jewish people came to pray after a pilgrimage to the temple, is commonly known as The Western Wall.

This is a wall that is disputed territory, as are so many things which are divided by lifeless barricades and blocks of stone. Something there is that does not love a wall, and wants it down. A holy place for the Muslim faith as well, Islamic peoples call it the Buraq Wall, and for many years kept it for themselves. Jewish people know the wall as Kotel ha-Ma’aravi, and while some believe it is a place of prayer for all faiths, some in the ultra-orthodox community believe women shouldn’t be praying there at all. Despite all the controversy, united in fervency and purpose are the pray-ers, those individuals who write out an anonymous request and shove it between the cracks in the stone for safekeeping, taking their hearts in hand and mutely appealling to the power of miracles.

Jews, Gentiles, Israelis, Americans – people from all over, and of all faiths come to pray, wish, and hope in a place of perceived holiness. In a world of walls and conflict and confusion, may they find what they’re looking for.


Poetry Friday is hosted by Heidi Mordhorst at Heidi’s Juicy Little Universe.

{poetry friday}

SMALL KINDNESSES
~ by Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

I think there’s nothing like being in need of help to underscore the small kindnesses which make up the fabric of any existence – even the smile of the barista or check-out person, the nurse who ties closed your hospital gown when they get you up on your feet after surgery, the person you meet walking their dog. We are all weavers of this kindness if we let ourselves be.

{pf: the p7 try a triolet}

Ah, summer. Surprises around every corner… including the plum tree which has netted us a ten gallon bucket of plums so far and it’s still not finished bearing. And the apricots are coming ripe. As are the peaches… and the persimmons… and soon, the pomegranates… and the apples…

Did I kvetch about it being 103°F the day we moved? I stand by my whingeing, but apparently, the trees loved it. I’ll take the fruit and quit complaining now.

Our theme this month is HEAT, and our poetry challenge is the triolet – the deceptively simple form with which we’ve dabbled previously. As always, it’s one of the tougher repetitious poems for me – I feel like my timing is wonky or something – but this round, it was a bit easier. That may have been down to the discovery of a triolet generator. Having a little program keep track of your line repetitions can help you create sensible couplets (though I advise you copy to another document or don’t use the edit button; it erases the whole thing). Never feel like using any little aid is “cheating;” poetry is heart breathed into words – get your pages breathing any old way you can, bravehearts.


Sara’s gorgeous words breathe here. Here are Liz’s stunners, and Tricia’s beauties. Here are Rebecca’s radiant words, Kelly’s charmers, Laura’s lovelies, and Andi’s inspiration here. Hit that generator! Your words can breathe, too!


In the quest for one I halfway liked, I wrote a ton of triolets, but wanted to say something unique about the theme instead of “wah, wah, wah, it’s too hot,” which is the basic theme of all my summer discourse (not even kidding). Here I’ll share three which I thought spoke to the theme in the most interesting ways:

Vitally Vernal

My summer self is big and wild
Untamed, unbound: essential me
I’m barefoot, wander like a child
My summer self is big. And wild
I drift in whimsy, brain beguiled
By heated schemes I oversee
My summer self is big! How wild
Untamed, unbound, essential: me
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I am going to use the camping stove (aka the summer kitchen) for canning the plum preserves outside, but summer indoor cooking really brings on the heat, especially as I do as much as I can all at once to prevent turning on the range again…

Can I Give You A Taste?

Jammed tight with pots, our kitchen’s heat
Makes love – and meals – with hints of spice
Right in the flames – it’s hot and sweet
And jammed with pots. A kitchen’s heat
Welcomes each lover, saves a seat
For (piquant gossip) tasty bites –
Jammed tight with pots, a kitchen’s heat
Makes love – and meals – with hints of spice
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Sara reminded us that triolets were often devotional, so I gave it a shot, playing with a traditional Christian imagery of God as artisan metalworker. I also tried for fourteen syllables to give myself some room.

Foundry

“refined by fire” vital furnace; breathe, o breath of god
be cleansed within the crucible, heart clarified by heat.
For this I prayed. Now mettle, tested, twists – a lightning rod
“refined in fire” vital furnace breathes. o breath of god
I, unalloyed, am brittle, wracked with weaknesses and flawed,
But cast and molded, forged by passion’s art, I’m made complete
refiner’s fiery, vital furnace blasts its breath – o god
come clean. within the crucible there’s clarity in heat


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Poetry Friday is hosted at the blog of that very, very, very busy professor, writer, and math-admirer Miss Rumphius. We’re lucky to have you, Tricia dear – happy writing retreat.

{basta. finito. el fin. the end}

It’s so nice to have settled the last word and sent off my manuscript! It’s been a long haul, has 2019 so far, but we’re making it through a day at a time, so yay for that!

Late in the day, but I ran across this poem earlier this week and saved it aside for Poetry Friday. It goes along with Nikki Giovanni’s other poem on spiders “Allowables from which I so frequently quote:

Mercy

She asked me to kill the spider
Instead, I got the most
peaceful weapons I can find

I take a cup and a napkin.
I catch the spider, put it outside
and allow it to walk away

If I am ever caught in the wrong place
at the wrong place, just being alive
and not bothering anyone,

I hope I am greeted
with the same kind
of mercy.

Blessed are the merciful, indeed. Should any of us be caught in the wrong, or being the wrong color, gender, preference, and in the wrong place, let’s hope we all obtain mercy – from cops at routine traffic stops, from judicial benches, from educational systems and from each other. We are none of us free until we are all free. Pax.

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{pf with p7: what’s the skinny?}

June, and the chaos has been unleashed. I won’t bore you with all of it, but our friends’ baby came – two and a half weeks early, so none of the handmade gifts we’d started were finished in time (like the baby cares), my deadline is this month, and I didn’t realize a week ago, the Monday of Memorial Day, that I’d be moving house. I am! Next Monday, in fact. So, yeah, it’s barely June, yet a lot has happened.

Fortunately, somehow poetry happened, too.

This month’s challenge is Skinnys. The Skinny, invented in 2005 by poet Truth Thomas, is a short form with eleven lines, the first and eleventh of which can be any length. The eleventh and last line use the same words, in the same order or rearranged. The second, sixth, and tenth lines are identical. (Skinnys have a linked form, which would be amazing to play with too.) And all other lines but the first and last are a single word – thus the name of “skinny,” as they appear rather narrow. Unless you’re me, and cannot stop yourself from using really long words.

Le sigh. Yes. Once again, I struggled with this form. Things that restrict my word count/usage are hard – but things without restrictions? Very hard. Poetry: challenging, every single time. Ah, well. Thematically, Skinnys are often on serious topics – but with so few brief words, they can easily slide into moroseness. I tried to balance my depressive tendencies with short verbs and punchier topics. It helped to just keep writing, and keep experimenting – I got to where I was literally waking up to write Skinnys after dreaming them. The neat thing about this form is that you can write a great many poems in a short amount of time. Today I’ll share just a couple.

Hypnagogic

on the edge of sleep, a dream of falling
sudden
start
abrupt
spasm
sudden
heartbeat
acceleration
another
sudden
falling of dream, of a sleep on the edge

Malignant

metastasis, a silent sword, speeding
spreading
poison
spiteful
blight
spreading
baneful
toxic
fright
spreading
silence. Metastasis, speeding a sword.

This last woke me to remind me of Miss Phine, an infant who gifted me with new wonder for my species.

Homo Familial

sometimes I love them so much
occasionally
humanity
inherently
baffling
occasionally
incredible
relatable
invaluable
occasionally
instinctively
Love times Them. Sum: so much I.

This June chaos has unleashed itself all over, so a few of the Sisters will be poetrying along into next week. You’ll find serious and silly from Laura, a last minute but determined Tricia’s best, here; a very sweet return to the ring from Kelly, and the one who challenged us, Andi’s poem here. Sara, Liz, and Rebecca will check in later in the month.

Poetry Friday flourishes under the love and care of Cousin Mary Lee; if you haven’t signed up for a week to host, and you’re feeling brave, join the party! Poetry Friday this week is hosted at the blog of illustrator Michelle Kogan (do check out her work) who gathers us this week to celebrate poet laureate Tracy K. Smith.

Meanwhile, June rolls on. May you ride out the chaos into the middle of a summer calm. Just remember:

{pf: the p7 get dizzied by dizains}

The new month has burst upon us like …well, a lot like a sudden shower of rain. Because we keep having those. And I am not even mad about it. We’ve also got early strawberries at the Farmer’s Market, so… you win some… and then you win some more, if you have a hat in the car.

May is National Mental Health month, and this is my annual – weekly? – reminder to you all to be excellent one to another, because truly — “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” – Amelia Earhart. After all, it’s SPRING! Time to make things grow, good people.


Poetry Princess Sara challenged us to dizains this month, which turned out to be… oddly mechanical. We were discussing how sometimes poetry seems to require us to …look things up and make specific connections with definitions and distinctions in order for mere words to turn into wordplay. The French poetic form dizain (not to be confused with dizaine which either means a decade or “about ten” in French) is regimented – ten lines, ten syllables per line, and a strict rhyme scheme – ababbccdcd. I found myself looking up things which were square, or ten, because it felt awkward, at first! I found that the form kind of builds on itself, and halfway through, the rhyme pattern begins to echo the pattern from the beginning, building a kind of square. Sara decided we could have a bonus point if we used the word “square” in our poems (from the Imaginary Point-Giving Poetry Body), so off we went.

My first poem was kind of a joke – my siblings and I play cards at my parents’ house once a month, in order to see them and each other more regularly, and we were making a disorderly mess last weekend, and my father was patiently …doing dishes. While we played. This is not the pattern of my childhood AT ALL, so that was… spectacularly weird, to be honest. But it got me thinking how much we girls (and my poor lone brother) disrupted my father’s #goals for order and peace. And, since my Dad was a bricklayer just out of high school, and that uses square…

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All the bricks you could want.

Daughters, Or Things That Messed Up Dad’s Life

Brick by brick, the Mason’s art constructed
Scaffolding, hod, cement in balance tied
Calculus, a symphony conducted
With “joints” and “beds,” and squarely dignified
As sums meet stone, and stone is satisfied.
Bull-nosed – both brick and man – he made life’s call
For “soldiers” in a row, chaos forestall.
No fickle furbelow accommodate
Geometry the goal, once and for all.
But Life provides girl-chaos to frustrate…

(I was reminded that CHILDREN, not just daughters, are the point of chaos, and so I concede. However, a good soldier makes do, and my father has.) That was a good entry poem for me, because I got to use a lot of technical terms (soldiers is a way to lay bricks – in a specific line. Who knew! [Well, Dad, probably]) and got to grips with the weird rhyme scheme. I decided to look further at squares… with dance.

Having attended religious schools my whole life, I never experienced the “fun” so many of my friends and relatives complained about (middle school + dancing for PE = tales of woe). I can’t square dance – or dance at all – but was delighted to discover that for an allegedly simple country dance, square dance has tons of serious adherents and technical terms. A ‘promenade’ is itself a whole dance subgenre! So, I was off again:

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Around the Quad

The Promenade brings sweethearts, two by two
With mincing steps, into a perfect square.
Striding in step along the avenue
Forward-and-back, the dancers walk on air
A ‘side-by-side’ that’s truly debonair.
Seeing – and being seen – the highest goal
As gents and ladies proudly take a stroll.
Walk where the lights are bright – all eyes on you
And never mind the critics on patrol —
Just do-si-do on to your rendezvous.


But, wait, there’s more! Sara’s poem uses more technical builder‘s terms, Liz is all science. Rebecca is, of course, quantum science, while Tricia found myriad other disciplines. Poetry Princesses Kelly, Andi, and Laura are off creating their own experiments elsewhere this month.

Need a bit more poetry? Poetry Friday today is hosted by the fabulous Jama-j, at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

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One last Mental Health Month reminder: “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu