{poetry friday: p7’s ekphrastic: on the rocks}

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Because “mistakes flower/every hour,” this anthology of middle grade poetry will look at mistakes from as many angles as possible, including (but not limited to) mistakes that result in discoveries/inventions, grammar and etiquette mishaps, historical and fictional blunders, funny/silly/embarrassing missteps, ways to make things right, and forgiveness.

Visit the link for details. Submission deadline November 1, 2017. Send poems to mistakesanthologyATgmailDOTcom.


It’s the first Friday of September, and the countdown to autumn begins in earnest. All hail, the gathering of the Poetry Sisters, as they come in from balmy, sticky summer days, too-short vacations, garden grubbing, housekeeping, art-making, school year preps, and conferences.

All hail, the gathering up of the brain cells.

I will now skip my usual song and dance about “Already!” and “Good grief!” and any number of other folksy expressions of shock, and just admit that 2017 feels, each month, as if we’ve lived a full year in the past thirty days… and yet, time keeps on shoving us onward, into the future. Hurrah.

(I mean, it’s not like I would like time to stop or anything, but the shoving just seems rude. I would like the days to pass without a cattle prod, thank you.)

Ah, well. The world is full of short, sharp shocks, is it not? Fortunately, there’s always poetry.

This month, we’re back to the ekphrastic, which means that the form was up to us, and the prompt was the rather lovely picture above, taken by Sara, along a path at the Highlight Foundation retreat center near lovely semi-rural Honesdale, Pennsylvania. I and several other sisters were taken by how the stone etched with the word ‘wish’ was snapped in half – rather like a wishbone – through the pressure of cold and weathering. We also noted how some of the words are obscured. Can wishes be broken? Are the things we wish for, or that make us individual, hidden, even from ourselves?

2 Princes

Snap)(ped like cold stone
two paths. one wish.
No way, except my own
I choose. I walk alone.

Two paths. One wish.
Fated, to Rule of Three
I ch(o)se (to) walk alone,
faithless. [Set free.]

Fated to rule. Of three
wishes, I wasted two –
Faith, let set free
desire’s detainee.

Wishes, I wasted. Two
snap ped like cold stone.
Desire’s detainee?
No (one’s), except my own.

I love how a pantoum can be… about any number of things at all.

In the spirit of the Poetry Sisters trying to think through and talk more about our process, I’ll admit that my brain has to flush itself with a sing-songy, drivelicious piece of nonsense first before I can come to grips with poetry of any kind of Serious Form. True to form, I messed about for quite a bit with this and that, then ran out of time on a sonnet I felt was suitably difficult enough To Appear Serious. The truth is? No matter how much I whine, these are just fun, and I’m grateful to have the outlet for this kind of fun, to let my brain run along paths other than flash floods and garbage fires, war wounds, weeping, and wailing. Wordplay is the best play, right now, anyway.

Once Was Is Past

once was is past: snapped clean and cleaved in twain
time’s pulse a timpani that marches on,
relentless, in this lifetime marathon;
all paths converge and seek out this refrain.

with restless adaptation, time’s campaign
seeks but to better life’s phenomenon:
streams seep, then oceanward surge thereupon
meek molehills strive – to steeper heights retrained.

as all things change, yet changing, keep the time
and dance to day’s distinctive martial tune
what changes least, you’ll find, still dies too soon.
that’s paradox, in living’s paradigm.

the past, a path wayfarer’s quests elude,
ahead, horizon’s trackless latitude.

And, OKAY, since Liz doesn’t think it’s actually drivel – here’s the first thing that fell out of my brain for this project:

WARNING, or DO NOT WISH UPON A STAR

with no apologies to Disney whatsoever

When you’ve wished upon a ROCK
You’ve wished, at least, on sturdy stock,
& tethered it to solid ground –
(not vague celestial hopes unsound).

Wishes on stars are ill-advised;
A heavenly-body’s VAST, in size
You wish might land… or, go astray,
Become some wind-tossed castaway…

But plant your heels on cobblestone,
‘Wish’ turns to ‘deed’ with your backbone.
Persist, and dreams you’ll undertake,
That starlight’s whimsies cannot make.

(Full disclosure; this is the Poetry Sister polished version of this poem; first out of the gate had a much bootstrappier final stanza, and with a mighty vengeance I detest and loathe hoisted-upon-yon-bootstraps poetry – #sorrynotsorry Rudyard Kipling/Robert Service. This ending has both stars and stones to root it, and thank-you, Sara.)

There’s more poetry all over: first, check out Laura, Sara, Tricia, & Liz, and see what they’re doing with this particular ekphrastic challenge this month. Be sure to wave to Andi, and welcome her back!

Next, head on a short flight to Oz, and visit the blog of Kat Apel. Check in and add your links to the rest of the Poetry Friday roundup today.


And now, a little plug for the Cybils Awards: Since 2007, the Cybils have long been a place for those who care about children’s literature to get involved. Especially this year, when it may feel that nothing we do changes anything (cattle prod notwithstanding), highlighting good books for children, tweens & teens is a hopeful imperative. If you read and write about children’s literature, between now and September 11th, there’s an open call for judges in all categories. Better to open a good book – which is, its own way, lighting a candle – than to curse the darkness.

{pf: unable, for a moment, to see the world cancelling itself}

Arise, Go Down

It wasn’t the bright hems of the Lord’s skirts
that brushed my face and I opened my eyes
to see from a cleft in rock His backside;

it’s a wasp perched on my left cheek. I keep
my eyes closed and stand perfectly still
in the garden till it leaves me alone,

not to contemplate how this century
ends and the next begins with no one
I know having seen God, but to wonder

why I get through most days unscathed, though I
live in a time when it might be otherwise,
and I grow more fatherless each day.

For years now I have come to conclusions
without my father’s help, discovering
on my own what I know, what I don’t know,

and seeing how one cancels the other.
I’ve become a scholar of cancellations.
Here, I stand among my father’s roses

and see that what punctures outnumbers what
consoles, the cruel and the tender never
make peace, though one climbs, though one descends

petal by petal to the hidden ground
no one owns. I see that which is taken
away by violence or persuasion.

The rose announces on earth the kingdom
of gravity. A bird cancels it.
My eyelids cancel the bird. Anything

might cancel my eyes: distance, time, war.
My father said, Never take your both eyes
off of the world, before he rocked me.

All night we waited for the knock
that would have signalled, All clear, come now;
it would have meant escape; it never came.

I didn’t make the world I leave you with,
he said, and then, being poor, he left me
only this world, in which there is always

a family waiting in terror
before they’re rended, this world wherein a man
might arise, go down, and walk along a path

and pause and bow to roses, roses
his father raised, and admire them, for one moment
unable, thank God, to see in each and
every flower the world cancelling itself.

“Arise, Go Down” from The City In Which I Love You. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee.


Poetry Friday today is hosted at Reflections on the Teche.

{remember, your color’s green}

Sorrow is Not My Name

      —after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.

—for Walter Aikens

– by Ross Gay, from the 2011 collection, Bringing the Shovel Down

{poetry friday: p7 play “Statues in the Park”}

How on earth is it already August!? This year has seemed to be the longest parade of awful, ever but somehow this summer is flying by like greased lightning. I guess it’s just that the pace of the chaos has sped up…? Who can tell. This week, I’m writing poetry from a new garret, in a house still filled with the odd unpacked box or stack of somethings.

Vacaville 2Vacaville 1

Our August Poetry Project is another Salas Special, wherein Laura gave us the title and let us go hog wild. Well, that’s never a good idea for me. I was stumped for ideas for a hot minute until I narrowed down my Flickr selections of statues to the actual park, and not entryways, old buildings, cemeteries… These bronze statues are in a graveled park, a short cut between a strip mall and a street of shops. The pair of them are gathering pears. The girl is gathering windfalls, while the man takes care of the official harvest. The light and the wet day perfectly captured the ineffable quality of an autumn afternoon:

Statues in the Park, Vacaville

Gather ye orchard’s gleaning
As sun decants to starlight.
The summer leaves no greening
Untouched by autumn’s appetite.
Soft, the season turns, governed by winter’s oversight.

I like that, but still find five-line poems a struggle (if I actually follow the rules for syllables, which I patently did NOT in the final line). Five lines are just not enough time for wordy-old-me to invest a poem with emotion – which is why I deeply respect people who can really make tanka really work. (I keep trying, though.)

I gave up on the quintet form and just went with rhymed couplets — and a statue that stopped traffic for me. Ever been to Treasure Island?

Treasure Island 36Treasure Island 34Treasure Island 30

Statues in the Park: Bliss

Like no one’s watching, dance, they said
Away your fears, take joy instead!
Such glib advice! So hard to take.
(Perfectionists can’t risk mistakes.)

Who wouldn’t choose a bird to be –
All blithe-winged swooping, flying free –
…But, what goes UP must come to grief.
DOWN follows up. Joy’s flight is brief.

Light, soaring thistledown I’d fly
Wind’s fickle dance exemplify,
But plodding, scaredy-self the rope
That leashes whimsy’s gyroscope.

Is fearing, living? NO, say I
If convention we satisfy
And let “tradition” turn our feet!
Take back your drum! Dance to your beat.

They’re watching, but dance anyway
Sing loud. Love hard, life’s cabaret
Plays rarely past four score and five –
You have RIGHT NOW to be alive.

This is “Bliss Dance,” by Marco Cochrane, on the great lawn at Treasure Island. She is forty feet tall, and she literally, the first time we saw her, caused us to hit the brakes and gawk. She. Is. Huge.

Some art you can encounter once and simply remember it. Bliss, I could visit repeatedly. She’s just…there larger than life, and …brings to mind the William Carlos Williams poem, “The Kermess,” another poem I memorized in college. I love the joyous defiance of Breughel’s-great-picture-The Kermess; the poem’s thick shanks and big butts and bellies all swinging round made me so happy. Bliss’ body is traditionally symmetrical, but her nudity puts her on the same level – she’s unashamed and getting her slightly awkward, spinning groove on. She’s probably going to trip over her own feet, in a minute. Do you think she cares?

Treasure Island 31

She does not.


The poetry sisters are in the house! Some of Laura’s statues are just waiting for you to leave. Sara’s diving into the complicated uses of Lincoln’s memorial. Tricia’s managing to write surrounded by family. Kelly’s playing with the idea of release, while Liz is traveling. And don’t forget to wave hello to Andi, who is cheering us on from the bench this week.

There’s more Poetry Friday this lovely early August day! Our hostess kicking off the month in style is [email protected] Write. Put on your dancing shoes, dearhearts, and shimmy through your weekend. They’re all watching. Who cares?

{thursday thought}

Be not dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.

The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

L.R. Knost

Define loneliness?

Yes.

It’s what we can’t do for each other.

What do we mean to each other?

What does a life mean?

Why are we here if not for each other?

Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

{“children are pure” & other egregiousness}

Sonoma County 218

Things inevitably need maintenance when you need them, thus the oil light went on the day before our last day of packing. We made time to pop over to our usual car shop, where Tech Boy spent so much time before our last car finally blew up and left this mortal coil. They know him well at Honda, so when a lady came out from behind the counter and enveloped me into a fierce, bony hug, I knew it was for his sake, and not my own.

As often happens after the initial greeting of, “I’ve heard so much about you!” the questions begin, as the person tries to measure the real me against what my husband has told them. He, meanwhile, abandoned me to see if he could make the car make that one clunk sound for the technician, and so the lady behind the desk started the inquisition. She asked, predictably, about how Tech Boy and I met, and what my parents thought (they didn’t blink); she shared she’s gay, and her father is homophobic. I talked about being the youngest, and then the middle sibling, about taking care of babies as a tween and teen. We talked about working various jobs. She asked if I had new books to suggest for her nieces, and wanted to know if I had sold anything new. I shared a bit of how my latest project is making the rounds, explaining that the industry is changing and becoming more inclusive. I shared how in some ways I feel that creates a new hesitancy on the part of editors and some writers, but that we’re all finding our feet in this larger world of new voices.

“It’s Obama’s fault,” she said.

Enter feather, knocking me over.

I made my best, “Mmm?” noise, because I just did not see that one coming.

“All this inclusive, political correctness. It’s his fault,” she repeated. “People started talking about race, and felt like they had to pick sides. And it’s not fair to the kids, you know? It’s not fair that it’s affecting you, your business. Children are pure. They don’t know anything about race, and they don’t care about getting stories from blacks or whites or anything.”

“Mmm!” I replied brightly.

Perhaps it was cowardly, but I decided that a dealership shop wasn’t the place to go into my theories of …well, anything, really, and with a woman whose name I hadn’t even caught, whose personal contradictions I couldn’t even begin to plumb? Nix, nein, nope, and thank you. But, I’ve thought of this woman’s egregious assumption often in the days since.

A lot of us assume that children are pure – mentally, I mean. Unsullied by the nastiness and selfishness of the human condition. I don’t know how we manage to forget that they are born professional narcissists and by year one display their amoral characters at will. They will clock you upside the head or attempt to kick/scratch/gum/bite you, should you come between them and their desired keys/toy/cell phone/Cheerio. They scream “MINE!” at the slightest provocation, even claiming ownership over things they’re nowhere near, not to mention don’t actually possess; they can be spiteful little beasts, between bouts of looking adorable and sleeping sweetly and enslaving us with their toothless smiles. They are generally dreadful until taught better, because they, like we all, are wee mammals and nothing more. Animals, until they learn humanity, in a way.

Pure. HAH.

What Honda Lady was trying to convey, I believe, is the common belief that children are free from the bias and tribalism that taints adult interactions due to our having been raised within the constructs of institutionalized racism. But, she’s wrong there, too. Tricia’s recent blog recap of the conference on race she attended at the NMAAHC reminded me of this study conducted by CNN.

With 146 participants, I don’t think it was a big enough study, by any means, but it’s underscoring what other research on early childhood education centers have shown, that adult bias against children of color begins as early as preschool. Little wonder that children’s natural bias and tribalism comes through so young – monkeys see, monkeys do. Human beings begin to make judgments and gravitate toward those who are like us as early as six months…

They’re adorable, squeezable, and perfectly drool-y. They’re plotting, if not world domination, attention domination, and the ability to put everything into their mouths that they’d like, at any time. They’re clueless, but pure? Nope. Children are just… human animals, same as we adults. And, there’s no way you can spin that being the former president’s fault, either.