I could find the Big Dipper. The Little Dipper, after some struggle, was barely identifiable. As for bears, major or minor? Horns of a bull? A horse’s head? Surely, you jest. As a kid, I only barely scraped through getting my star badge. I have only ever found Orion’s belt – the man himself – god? – had apparently dropped his accessories and gone.

Stars are the pins which outline the shapes of beings larger-than-life, those gods and warriors who shine through the universe. Madea was such a woman, she lit up the small skies of a tiny Louisiana town, larger than life. And every child of hers who falls blurs the outline of her shape, and someday, her constellation may only be a memory. Strange, how losing Uncle Sly makes me think of my grandmother, and doubles the loss. For my grandmother, the DNR on her chart meant a quiet passage, but today, my mother’s arms ache from CPR, tried for long, long, long minutes, fruitlessly.

Cancer is an unworthy, unrighteous, rapacious, voracious, cunning, vicious, bastard. If only we could halt its pernicious poison which seeps into bones and breath, perhaps we could then cease to rage against the dying of the light, and let the stars fall softly.

{penultimate summer days}

Glue & Glitter

You know it’s beginning to look a lot like Autumn when you find a stray pile of coffee filters in the cabinet and your first thought is, “What can I use these for?” Yes, it’s true – while other people suffer from pumpkin spiced blight, my autumn ailment is the belief that I can surely go mano a mano with any crafty project that I see on the internet, or in stores, or on other people’s houses, and succeed beyond my wildest dreams. Never mind that they probably bought them, and the stores certainly did – I’m positive that I can do them myself – and make them look even better. (Now that I think of it, this may not be just an autumnal ailment…).

Today’s project was making a chalk sign on slate. Mind you, I only have fat sidewalk chalk and pastels – neither of which are ideal for real (READ: unpolished) Scottish slate – and mind you, I can’t really draw all that well. I made a WELCOME sign, and it looks… probably like you ought to stay away from my house.

Fine, whatever. It’s autumn in a few weeks, and there will be garlands of leaves and coffee filter wreaths and grapevines and scarecrows and I WILL BE READY.

BDastard Diseases

I’m grateful I have something fun to focus on, because my scleromyositis is being a beast. My doctor has named it Predator. “You know that one part in the movie, where it just bursts out of that guy’s chest?” Well, not really, but I’ve seen the clips, and yeah – that’s what this disorder feels like – something which gnaws on my innards and erupts out of my chest periodically. Mostly, I’m dealing with it. Having something sucking down your energy and brainpower like an invisible leech is not fun, but it’s been …manageable. Mostly. Lately, though, it’s started affecting my digestion, which is difficult. When you’re a vegetarian, and eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg, being told you need to lower your fat, fresh, and fibrous intake or what’s in your gut will just sit there and rot because it can’t absorb into your system… is hard. I am… resentful. And cranky. And having to haul out a whole new way of eating that includes applesauce instead of apples and cooked instead of fresh. Soft foods are apparently the trick. At least the summer is ending; one doesn’t worry so much about lacking salads when it’s cold, and soup ought to be okay. I think. Ugh. At least yogurt and I don’t have to break up. And chocolate pudding. And chocolate mousse…

To the Bookshelf!

Really, whenever there is anything unpleasant going on, I take to the books. (Yes, in fact I have been reading like mad this past year. How did you know?) Now that I can read again – and there was a scary period a week ago when I was too tired even to comprehend while listening to an audio book (TOO TIRED!? How can that even happen?!) I’ve been enjoying Deanna Raybourne’s newest mystery series A CURIOUS BEGINNING. In children’s books, I’m enjoying Robin Stevens’ MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE series — and I do order the British ones, because the titles and covers of the American ones give me a headache. (Murder Is Bad Manners?? Seriously, American publishers??) I’m looking forward to losing myself in more adventurous novels, including Rebecca Roanhorse’s TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, which is sitting on my nightstand, and Jacqueline Woodson’s two newest, THE DAY YOU BEGIN, and for older readers, HARBOR ME.

On the Keyboard

Because people so often ask how the writing is going, I’ll say… slowly. It’s new ground I’m breaking, trying to make a conscious decision to write something utterly new for me, something out of my usual family-oriented main character. It’s tougher still with Predator as a roommate in my brain who won’t conveniently go to sleep when I need a break. It’s tough, but to be a writer, I grit my teeth and remind myself that the gig means I have to write. Yesterday I finished a scene which had eluded me for a couple of days, and even though I had to lie down afterward, the feeling of triumph was real. Every letter counts, friends.

As hurricane season unspools, clouds hover on the horizon, I hope you are glorying in the final days of an unconventional summer, and wringing from them all the joy that you can.

{rocks. paper. scissors.}

I have been playing with a specfic story for a long time with this title, and when I found this poem, it made me smile.

Song of the Powers

Mine, said the stone,
mine is the hour.
I crush the scissors,
such is my power.
Stronger than wishes,
my power, alone.

Mine, said the paper,
mine are the words
that smother the stone
with imagined birds,
reams of them, flown
from the mind of the shaper.

Mine, said the scissors,
mine all the knives
gashing through paper’s
ethereal lives;
nothing’s so proper
as tattering wishes.

Read the rest of this poem by David Mason at Poetry Out Loud.

{p7 on pf: a patchwork of a cento}

“I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”

Greetings and salutations: It’s Poetry Friday, and is anyone else mildly bewildered that it’s September? While no one can say this summer has gone by quickly – no one who was has been wilting in the heat or sucking down smoke – that we’re officially motoring towards Autumn is a bit surprising… ah, well, on with the dance.

How I did it: While found poetry is typically difficult for me, this month’s cento challenge was a doozy. After TEN YEARS (this past April) of making poetry together with these ladies, I would not have wasted time whining about how difficult this was, except if we’re too quiet, it makes Sara leery, so WOW, THIS WAS HARD, UGH, GOSH, CENTOS, ARGH. Better, Sara? Onward:

From the Latin word for “patchwork” a cento is a collage poem made up of lines from poems by other poets. For our poetic quilt, the Poetry Sisters chose a single stanza from “I See Chile In My Rearview Mirrow by New Delhi poet Agha Shahid Ali. From this poem, we then chose a single word from a selected stanza around which to build our collage.

Finding poems for centos can be challenging, but a quick shortcut is to put your chosen word into the search engine at Poets.org and proceed from there. Out of the plethora of interesting choices, I chose like, which was common enough to give me too many options for poems, so I limited myself to only five pages of results from Poets.org, and twenty-seven poems, which I whittled down to a mere seventeen. Happily, this choice also opened my poem up to myriad cultural and ethnic diversities as well, as we move from the past to the present, through myriad continents and genders and faiths.

Making Meaning: It’s challenging to make meaningful poetry out of patchwork, however – having to leave the words of the poems in the order in which they were within their individual works made this even more difficult. However, because I have still been reflecting on my recent foray into harpy-ism, I found myself with ample fodder for the whirling emotions in the lines which presented themselves. Reflecting on how I had felt in the moment just after an insult, I found a backing for the swirling patchwork, and I pinned my individual bits in various places and orders until they felt true.

ozone & petrichor (after lightning)

I would like to describe the simplest of emotions

it was like this:
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck other times
like brooms of steel.
like sunlight, in fog
breaking like oil. the night
smelled like a dead frog.
a rose like a screw
drawn out of my breast like a rib.

I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment…
I have never been anything like pink
& lord knows, I have been called by what I look like.
Just like that, I’m a flung open door.
I run around like mad –
Like them, I wanted — only to die, moon-dark. Blessed,
unnoticed. now they look suspended, like heroes
a dream still clinging like light to the dark,
as the mist disappeared. like a curtain, open,
maybe. its flaws, like cracks
leaking in and out in all directions

mistress, eyes are nothing. like the sun
like a million dollar god with a two-cent
rim-shot, history, like a shadow, passes.

Closing Credits: And there’s even more cento-y goodness from the Sisterhood. Laura meets this month’s challenge through glass, Tricia found a truly envy-producing title, Sara, who set our challenge this month, sees all that is before us, while Liz breaks down breaking/brokenness. From their cushy chairs on the sidelines, Andi and Kelly meanwhile wave their pom-poms in our general direction, cheering us onward.

The true gift of a cento is the impetus to read widely – and wildly – a number of different types of poems one might not have otherwise attempted. To best appreciate the rich cloth from which each piece of patchwork is cut, you are invited to find a line you feel is especially intriguing, and read its antecedent poem.

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Beyond Literacy Link. Here’s to corralling the various whirling emotions that we might have and pinning them down into poetry. A cento style might not make it as easy to impose order onto your world as, say, a sonnet, but there is something to be said for using whatever feelings you have – however you feel – to make an orderly mind out of chaos.

” We use whatever strengths we have fought for, including anger, to help define and fashion a world where all our sisters can grow, where our children can love, where the power of touching & meeting another woman’s difference & wonder will eventually transcend the need for destruction.” Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), 124-133

Hat tip to Tech Boy who made my little table in ten minutes, when I would have had to work carefully, with a lot of scowling and muttering, for an hour or more.

{the shrill, shrieking harpy within}

Kelvingrove Museum D 522

The harpy? It me.

Behold, I have won for myself the Hideous Hostess Award. I have delved deep within – or, rather, I have scratched a claw across a very thin veneer, not having to go very deep at all, and lo, I have discovered that within is housed the housefrau of unhingedness, the vixen of vexedness, and the harpy of hatefulness.

Five days of company might do this for you.

And, it’s been nearly seven days since it happened, and I’m just now blogging it, so you know the shame level is still pretty high.

My sisters are still laughing at me — fully belly laughs, not smirks and giggles. “Oh, you get mad like Mom does,” they tell me. “You ‘scream’ like Mom does,” they say, and their “scream” comes with air quotes. Maybe. But, it felt like I was moments from clawing someone across the face.

My head got hot.

My face flushed – to where I could feel it. I broke into a sweat. And my voice went up to a hectoring, screamy pitch I haven’t heard since I was a child. I was THIS close from getting up and hurling myself headlong at this person.

Honestly? I didn’t know I had it in me.

The problem with lying to yourself is that you might believe it.

Self-deception is mainly a problem when dealing with your emotions. The thing about feelings is that… they’re there. They’re still there even when you’ve shoved them down past your line of sight. They’re not something you ever truly control. You feel how you feel; you can only control acknowledgment and action.

Kelvingrove Museum D 523

Though I know that, for most of my life, and for much of the lives of many people of the female persuasion, being angry is something that was delegated to the male of the species. They yelled, we jumped. They barked, we acted… at least, that’s how it was in my family. My mother never appeared to be angry – never does appear, to this day. She glided with serenity through my childhood, and only wept when we disappointed her. Now, there were a very few times when she broke something… but that was considered anomaly based on how much we had truly vexed her. She didn’t scream and shake us, she cried. And that was the only polite way for women to be angry, maybe.

After decades of trying, I find I am not my mother. I know I get angry. After twenty-odd years of keeping company with Tech Boy, he knows I get angry, too. I have evolved past the need to call it annoyed, vexed, irritated, cross, or ill-tempered. He has gotten a kick out of telling me, through the years, that I’m really working my thesaurus, all to avoid saying I am angry enough to bash his brains out with a loaf of bread. I try not to allow self-deception to cloud my mind and tell me that I’m only allowed to be “disappointed” or to sob quietly when I want to legitimately strangle someone.

Significantly, I was nowhere near weeping the other night. Still — this just caught me off guard and swept my feet out from beneath me. This… towering rage.

Kelvingrove 272

Theoretically, we all know better now than to talk about politics.

Politics claw out our hearts and reveal our spleen. Politics are so broken and jagged that they’re not fit for indoor use, only for storage out back with all the other broken, rusted things. We know better than to let politics in, just as we know better than to let in a rambunctious or rabid beast… Especially over dinner. Especially with near-strangers. Especially in mixed company – not everyone likes animals, and some people fear them. It is ironic that none of the Emily Post-style strictures with which we, in polite company, otherwise surround ourselves came into play the other night. If they had, I could have saved myself a little chagrin.

I already knew that the people visiting did not share my ethics and beliefs. I had already explained – possibly with an edge in my voice – the significance of the Legacy Award in the American Library Association pantheon of awards, and what it means to have a lasting legacy of the sort one would wish to keep as opposed to the unfortunate legacy of blackface and racial slurs toward Native people that some books have. (Could people otherwise not at all invested, interested, or involved in children’s lit please kindly step RIGHT out of that whole discussion? Kthx.) I had already taken a breath and let go rather snide remarks about religion by rationalizing to myself that I didn’t believe in an -ism either; I believed in an -ist, full stop, and so I could fail to be piqued by the jibe about that. I already knew that some people take pride in feeling smug that they are better than other people, better educated, more savvy, more secure in their intelligence, and they have a snide little laugh at those lesser beings — even very nice people who believe themselves to be otherwise open-hearted and sympathetic. It can be a habit that becomes ingrained and I of all people can cut individuals some slack for that.

But not, apparently, for complaining about the NRA, and how it’s not fair that they no longer have a voice, and “those g-d kids don’t know s-t about anything.”

Kelvingrove Museum D 586

Cry havoc, and let loose the sins of wrath.

Probably it was the French thing that did me in.

I love to know the etymology of everything because that’s who I am, and the whole “pardon my French” thing seems especially false, seeing as the French would not likely be bothered with the speaker, and more importantly, that the speaker cannot actually speak French at all, not even a tiny little bit. The phrase comes from the myriad switches during English history after the Norman Invasion of “we hate them, no we think they’re okay now; wait, we hate them again,” as people who spoke French or used French words excused themselves because others would either not understand, or they would look down upon them. Of course, these attitudes came right across the pond to the Colonies, and then we had French letters – condoms – French pox – syphilis – and French novels – pornography – that were in common usage during the 19th century. (Thanks, otherwise useless 19th Century British & American Lit English degree!) To hear people excuse profanity and blame the French is a big eye-roller for me. Hello? Own up to your own vulgarity, you sniveling weasel. Leave the French alone; they’re surely ignoring you anyway.

So, when this comment about the NRA was prefaced with “excuse my French” I wanted to point out that there is no right to bear arms in France, and that country has some of the strongest gun laws in Europe. I wanted to allow that if a high school in France had been shot up — years after an elementary school – that no one would be arguing that a non-governmental body who receives money from gun manufacturers, an organization which clearly has conflicts of interest riddling their judgment, had the right to petition the government. No one would be insiting that such ethically compromised people had the RIGHT and the NECESSITY to be on hand to shape their government’s decisions.

But, this is not France. And, neither France, nor the NRA is the point, to be honest. The point is that I forgot when I watched activists and protestors go toe-to-toe with strangers, raising their voices and their signs, that there is a human element involved. I have made such space in my life for peaceful compromise, for attentive understanding of my privileged belief systems and positions – Christian, Protestant, cis-het – that I neglected to make allowance for the role conviction plays in the bedrock of our belief when we are not trying to make room at the table for what others hold dear. I forgot that when we truly believe, we’re all in, throwing our hearts and our minds after our teeth and our claws.

I forgot that we’re all really little beasts, and only pretend to be more than that, and that it all comes out when we think – when we KNOW – that someone else is wrong.

It is a curious sensation.

{pf: the p7 & the sestina scourge}

Okay, so maybe “scourge” was dramatic, but this, y’all, has been… just about impossible.

Don’t get me wrong – every month, I adore the challenge of pitting myself against a poetic form, but the sestina and me… we’ve just never managed to do more than approach a strained détente and limp back to our respective corners to lick our wounds.

The form… just… repeats a word. Not a whole phrase, a word. That should be no harder than a pantoum or a villanelle, right? And yet, because of the length, perhaps, or the lack of rhyming, the tetrameter, or perhaps the specific order of the word repetitions… well, for whatever reason, it just seems much harder. The list of end words from which we were to choose six seemed fine at first – nothing wrong with face, down, mirror, ground, prism, prison, block, bend, wishes, beam, string, or blade, but eventually they were too concrete, too unwieldy, too… blah, blah, blah. Something.

Add to that, a creeping horror over the vast and terrible fires consuming my home state and my adopted country while suffering a soul-sucking loss of faith in humanity from the decay rate of our disintegrating Republic, bleak discouragement over a new diagnosis which might lead to surgery, generalized introvert anxiety over house guests, as well as the stomach ‘flu in the SUMMER, and you may well understand that my mental state was not all that it might have been for the construction of this poem.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

With locked jaw and gritted teeth. Scowling fiercely.

Won’t you celebrate with me? I’m still here. Still. Here. Dang. It.

As are my sisters Tricia, and Laura, and Sara, — as well as Kelly, Liz, and Andi, though those three are down at the boardwalk just now. Through packing and moves and trips and illnesses and too many meetings and family – still here. The battle this month is to those who finish, no matter when it happens. Slog on, ladies.

Here’s mud in the eye of all the things trying to ruin our day.

Battle Plan

A countermove for every move you block
A spark and it could all burn to the ground.
A breath could tip the house of cards you face;
They count you out, but you will not stay down.
Resolve a whetstone sharpening your blade
In battle’s heat you will not break, but bend.

How fine the line exists ‘tween ‘break’ and ‘bend’
What makes ‘assist’ turn into ‘stumbling block?’
There’s no help up from those who’ve fallen down
No stopping ‘floor’ from meeting with your face…
At least you walked before you met the ground –
So trial by fire creates a stronger blade.

It parries; thrusting, slashing with a blade
We nimble fighters long must strike and bend
Not moving meekly to the chopping block
We slash and stab until we’re falling down…
Bedtime. Tomorrow we must battle face
For now, retreat, regroup, and go to ground.

And this is where we find our common ground:
That all of us are wounded by this blade
That all, whip-scourged and raw, before it bend
And all, hauled fighting, to life’s butcher block.
And all of us death hunts, and will drag down
We’ll “go not gentle.” That, we could not face.

Still spitting venom in disaster’s face
We won’t just let it drag us underground.
A change of route avoids each sly roadblock,
We pray for open roads around the bend.
Audacity shines, hope-bright on the blade
The slingshot wielding shepherd boy brings down.

“He’s small – but won’t take trouble lying down.”
“She killed a giant?” – Shock on every face.
“But, when the gristmill grinds you up, you’re ground!
And, I heard you were bludgeoned by that blade!”
They didn’t see you learning how to bend…
Mustering moxie through each stumbling block.

A starter block for scything setbacks down:
First, stand your ground. Look trauma in the face
Then draw your blade and make the bastard bend.

Shout out to Josh Mandel’s useful and beautiful sestin-a-matic for help in remembering those tricky repeat patterns, especially in the envoi. Visit the site, click through, and choose a few words of your own, if you’re feeling poetically frisky. Sestinas really are a delightful challenge… when you’re not in a vile mood. Or, maybe they still are, but your sestina might end up being a teensy bit combative. Whatever, right?

Poetry Friday today is brought to you by the letter U and the number 8, and is hosted at my play cousin Mary Lee’s blog, A Year of Reading.

{the sisterhood of the cynical}

Netherlands 2018 1120

I never expected to be an older sister.

I spent long years being the youngest, a position loathed but familiar, before finally getting two younger sibs in one go, but little did I know that they meant my own position would change to that of Big Sister. This meant explanation, exhortation and most often, commiseration. And so it was that when my phone rang on Friday and my younger sister said, “Something’s happened,” and her voice warbled up in that tearful fashion to which I have become accustomed. I got comfortable, expecting the usual – a spat between she and Dad, or our eldest sister. Not today.

It was, she told me, at school, where she, with her cohort, are learning the ins and outs of the world of hair. JC keeps me up to date on the restless world of the Young and the Black-Clad, as all good Paul Mitchell-ites must be, and there is always some drama – so-and-so up and walked away from a client of hers and just left her hanging, so-and-so did a bad cut that the teacher had to rescue; so-and-so is the best colorist in the whole group, and is a little too proud of that fact. JC is a deft hand with the color bowl, and moved beyond doing wash-and-sets on the disembodied head of Maria the Mannequin to real human clients a little less than a month ago. Friday’s client was in for a color… and then abruptly took over the discussion on hair with a personal question.

“Why are you in a wheelchair?”

JC was the only physically disabled kid in her entire school, so she’s well accustomed to discussing her disability, and not at all uncomfortable with a quick explanation. However, the client wasn’t… satisfied with quick. She asked probing questions, and kept turning the conversation from the general to the personal. When she was finally draped and settled in her chair, and JC went to get her color, the woman asked the room at large, “Why do I have to have her? Can’t someone else do my hair?”

I imagine the room was uncomfortably silent. Afterward, the woman became uncommunicative and surly in response to questions and overall was a difficult client. JC’s confidence wavered, and she called in her teacher to finish for her… then a friend told her what had been said.

I commiserated, of course. I said how sorry I was that something like this had happened. I expressed my disgust with the woman’s ignorance, and her apparent belief that disability is contagious; I wished aloud she had received some home training. But, none of that fixes anything; in the long run, nobody can fix people. And, because I am so very bad at commiseration, I said, “And what’s your plan for the next time this happens?”

“What?” she quavered.

“It’s going to happen again,” I said, trying to be gentle. “Humanity is consistently awful.”

To no one’s surprise, she hung up a few minutes later, saying she was going to call Mom.

It was… maybe? the wrong thing to say? My sister, who was born with such birth trauma and such horrific birth parents and who manages with physical disabilities is still a mostly sunny-side-up type of kid. While I assume that there are going to be people in the world who are just generally ugly about things, she is horrified to find them. While she rolls through life assuming that doors will open for her, I trudge around with an axe. If it came down to wondering which of us was right the greater majority of the time, I’d probably say me… and she’d probably say her. Some sisterhoods are all things sweet and comfortable. Some sisterhoods have traveling pants. Ours, unfortunately, seems to have a cynical wedgie.

I guess this explains why I’m not actually great at this gig.

Regardless, I still think she needs to make a plan for next time. Because, in my experience, people will try you. We all know some folk move through the world looking for power exchanges, those moments when they feel like they can level up from the ground-floor misery that they feel they are by clomping on the head and shoulders of someone else to rise, even briefly. Everyone with a minus in a world that counts only pluses needs to have the tools at hand to lay boundaries for the way they wish to be treated and with kindness, insist on it. The Golden Rule isn’t meant to be a yardstick with which we smack each others’ hands, but a yardstick by which we measure how much we, too, are worth, and look toward treating others in kind. I want JC to know she’s worth being treated better, worth more than someone who has to explain or defend her choices or her existence.

Until then, Sister Cynic is practicing her shin kicking, in case Little Sister might need her.

{pf with p7: whatcha behn up to?}

Turn up the fan, and gather ’round. It’s time for another monthly poetry challenge.

Aphra Behn, 1640-1689, was the foremost female dramatist of her day, as well as a poet and a spy who wrote to make her way in the world – something not possible for many women, and only possible for a White woman who was particularly charming. She was a commercially successful playwright, and in her time, a household name. Most men were equally challenged, titillated, and horrified by her, as she would not stay safely within society’s confines for her gender. Alexander Pope all but called her a whore, but… I mean, Alexander Pope. His picture was in the dictionary next to Uptight. The commentary of uptight old men upon her work was believed as fact until the early 20th century.

For all that she wrote a lot, she herself remains a mystery. One of my favorite poems of hers is from one of her plays called Abdelazar, a revenge romance which characterizes Love as this terrifying alien that feeds upon lovers.

Song from


Love in fantastic triumph sate,
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flowed,
For whom fresh pains he did create,
And strange tyrannic power he showed;
From thy bright eyes he took his fire,
Which round about in sport he hurled;
But ’twas from mine he took desire
Enough t’ undo the amorous world.
From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his pride and cruelty;
From me his languishments and fears,
And every killing dart from thee;
Thus thou and I the God have armed,
And set him up a Deity;
But my poor heart alone is harmed,
Whilst thine the victor is, and free.

Despite the archaic wording, the writing is so passionate and bright – and very different from many writers in the 17th century.

In multiple poems, Behn used an ABBACDDCEE rhyme scheme in iambic tetrameter in sometimes ten, and sometimes fourteen lines. Often, but not always, the last was conveyed in iambic pentameter. Our challenge from Kelly this month was to write a poem using this rhyme scheme, with length and topic up to us. It was… not easy. I really dislike changing meter at the end, and because I hated it SO MUCH, I left it that way. (This challenge is meant to be about moving from one’s comfort zones.) I was silently beaming as I read the exchanges from my Sisters about how hard this one was. (Also: EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW IS HARD. This is why we write poetry; we have to keep exercising those creative muscles in any way we can.) I can cheerfully say that none of us is wholly delighted with their poem (what else is new?) but I think we’ve all done a bang-up job of trying: Sara managed a bit of magic about July 6th while Laura carved out a list. Liz jumped in with another slice of summer. Kelly raised the Aphra-as-spy topic, and we’re throwing up our hands with Tricia, who is hosting today, as well as living on the wild side. Andi is wisely laid out in front of the fan. For now, it’s onward with my own difficult bit of verse:

I often use poetry to work through things which are in my head, which is why this poem is… sharp… and dedicated to a certain Querulous Old Man, bless him, and to all who’d never even heard of the Wilder Award, yet still come to weigh in loudly as if called….


To celebrate an ancient lie ~
A “good old days” rife with cliché
You must, beginning, put away
Examination. Justify!
“We can’t just erase history -”
“Smearing her legacy’s a crime.”
“She was a product of her time.”
These arguments are sophistry.
But, “boldly go,” O, Pioneer,
Your destiny is manifest!
Your cause is trending (hastag “blessed”)
But all things change. (Is change your fear?)

Well, history remains the same –
But will you celebrate what should bring shame?

(EDITED: Or, “But will you celebrate its shame?” to keep the tetrameter intact.)

Poetry Friday is hosted by the glorious Miss Rumphius. Head on over to Tricia’s blog for more poetry goodness. And have a great weekend. Stay out of the saltpeter.

{these things I do}

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Years ago, when a friend of mine was in the first throes of a difficult divorce, I saw a list on her wall which read “Things I Can Do And Not Panic” or something like that, and the list was filled with simple things she was good at, which she had control over, that had nothing to do with the betrayal and drama currently going on in her life.

That …sliced me to the bone. While we both put on a brave face, I shed more private tears over that list than she ever knew. It hurt me to think that so talented and loving and competent a person was having to resort to lists to remind them of who they were. And yet. Depression – that liar – constantly tells us who we are not, and anxiety leaves us dashing about trying to prove we are better than that liar says.

So. Here I am with my lists.

This will be this administration’s legacy: lists. Lists to remind me of what I can control (nothing) and what I can do (not much, but something). Lists to act as bandages and gauze, staunching the stab wounds to my sanity Every. Single. Day. Lists. To remind me that I have to get up and keep going. Lists that remind me that there are still some thing which are…safely predictable.

I’m so impressed with what so many friends and acquaintances are doing – speaking up, speaking out, organizing efforts to raise funds and collect necessary items. I can throw money at things, when I have any (and LOL that with the writing life), but “silence, like a cancer, grows.” Anxiety and depression are some of the great stranglers, I find, and as events unfold and the national discourse goes from vicious to violent disintegration, some of us can barely think or speak. Every task takes enormous concentration to complete. We are overshadowed by a desire for unconsciousness during the day, and twitch restively with thwarted energy in the dark hours.

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And so we pull out our lists… packed with metaphors, we make our lists force sense into the world.

On my list right now are plums. There are plums on our teensy, tiny Charlie Brown tree in the backyard, and that plum tree is doing its UTMOST right now. Every day I get a couple of pounds of plums from that thing, and when all is said and done, I’m going to have forty pounds of plums or something. I go out and take pictures of my plum tree pretty much every day. The life cycle of a plum is …pretty straightforward, actually. It’s yellow-green. Then it’s green and pink. Then it’s red. Then it’s plum-purple and then it’s ready.

(As anyone with a fruit tree, I also spend a lot of time side-eying birds. There are a LOT of birds in my life right now. I name them and count them and …basically argue with them.

Hey. It’s a thing. It’s something I can do that I’m good at now: random tiny bird identification and illogical discussions with said birds re: staying out of my plums.)

Oddly, the second thing on my list is my piano. To be clear: I am a terrible pianist. Just really bad. Mainly because I was an anxious child who didn’t ever have a professional teacher, and so had to learn from an older lady who meant well, but who basically terrified me with her quavery voice and tremoring hands. Those “lessons” lasted for about six weeks before we all gave it up as a bad idea. I could play anything the lady asked me… but I never read a note. No, learning to read music was something I taught – and still teach – myself, and my playing shows it. Badly. But, right now, an anxious aadult hacking away at the mountain of Really Craptastic Playing gives me a kind of peace. Plus, when I’m not butchering Bach, I play hymns – that’s a twofer right there.

The third thing on my list is… creating. Art. Crafting. Food. Did you know Bon Appétit has videos? (Soon I’ll be fermenting kombucha in self defense. At least now I know new things to do with alllll those plums…) I may not be good at creating, but I can be relentless. That’s basically how I have to approach everything – keep trying. Which leads to …

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…the fourth thing on my list, which is, predictably, Dutch. The language is by turns impossible and then deceptively easy – and, like with piano, I am dreadful at it — but I keep hacking at it — oh, so badly, with the throat-palate-hiss sounds of g and h – and I can only hope that someday, someday I can solidly converse with a six-year-old. Someday.

Fifth is reading. Specifically, reading fairytale retellings and romances. A happily-ever-after is a requirement, a plot that isn’t too full of drama and chaos; the sure knowledge that, as in the thirty-minute sitcom, all’s well that ends. I am throwing a way a great many things which don’t fit my narrow parameters, but am happily finding a great many that do. It’s time to reread books that made me happy, where great justice prevailed over impossible odds. These are the times I reread the Discworld books, so I can listen a while to Sam Vimes.

Yes, Robin Reader. I am writing. That’s never not on my list. I am writing even though it feels like my fingers are chisels and the plot is granite. I write even though occasionally my chisel turns into a penknife and the plot is impenetrable. I hack out a few millimeters as I can. Sometimes, it’s like sand, and it all fills in the shape by the time I get back the next day. And then this beast becomes archaeology, and I take out my brushes and go dirt-diving. I find where the plot disintegrated. I carefully piece together the story’s history. And then I dig again.

These things I can do – simple, fixed things, while we do what we can. Meanwhile, the swords we beat into trowels to transplant the flowers of justice need sharpening. If you’ve turned your spear into a pruning hook, don’t forget that agricultural implements are still offensive weapons, according to Sam Vimes… what we sow, we’re going to reap, so keep planting.

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{blessed are they that sit}

One of the first poems I memorized on my own was Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays. I first read that poem during a literature test, and it stopped me so long that I feared I would not finish in the allotted time.

The words of the poem resonated like a struck bell, speaking directly to me as I struggled with my relationship with my father, whose love, much like the love described in Hayden’s poem, was threaded through with those “chronic angers” in our house… and yet, he did for us those backbreaking tasks that too often are taken for granted as “stuff that my Dad does.”

You have to sit with poems like that, poems which challenge your perception, gently chastise, and remind you — the world is bigger and more complex than you imagined it to be. Nothing is straightforward. Black and white is in variegated shades of gray.

This past week, we’ve had to sit with things that are discomfiting – personally, perhaps, nationally, surely. Many of us are still sitting with the reminder that depression is a liar — surely a lie cut full cloth from the father of lies himself. And that lie – and these losses of good people – reminded me of another Hayden poem, which is so fitting today.

Meanwhile, Poetry Friday is hosted over at Karen Edmisten’s brilliantly named blog.

Mourning Poem for the Queen of Sunday

Lord’s lost Him His mockingbird,   
       His fancy warbler;
       Satan sweet-talked her,
       four bullets hushed her.
       Who would have thought
       she’d end that way?

Four bullets hushed her. And the world a-clang with evil.   
Who’s going to make old hardened sinner men tremble now   
and the righteous rock?         
Oh who and oh who will sing Jesus down
to help with struggling and doing without and being colored   
all through blue Monday?
Till way next Sunday?

       All those angels
       in their cretonne clouds and finery   
       the true believer saw
       when she rared back her head and sang,   
       all those angels are surely weeping.   
       Who would have thought
       she’d end that way?

Four holes in her heart. The gold works wrecked.   
But she looks so natural in her big bronze coffin   
among the Broken Hearts and Gates-Ajar,   
it’s as if any moment she’d lift her head
from its pillow of chill gardenias
and turn this quiet into shouting Sunday
and make folks forget what she did on Monday.

       Oh, Satan sweet-talked her,   
       and four bullets hushed her.   
       Lord’s lost Him His diva,   
       His fancy warbler’s gone.   
       Who would have thought,
       who would have thought she’d end that way?

Robert Hayden, “Mourning Poem for the Queen of Sunday” from The Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden.

I don’t think I studied Hayden enough in school. That omission will henceforth be corrected.

For those of you sitting in grief, among the broken pots and ashes – remember, you are NOT your worst day, or even your worst moment. Always recall: this too shall pass. Don’t neglect to check which voices are telling you the truth about your life. The ones who say we’d be better off without you are lying.