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Happy Poetry Friday!

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Brené Brown’s TED talk from a few years ago wherein she mentions a Christmas movie – a family in a car singing carols, the camera panning over the individual faces, and then — she stops the imaginary movie, then she asks people what happens next. People immediately say “car crash.” Others add to that, imagining oncologist based bad news, serial killers – menace. I heard this in a talk, and laughed out loud. Like, what the heck?! Who are the people who think that?! And what the hell is wrong with them?

Um…? The people who think that is …us. Me. Brown talks about how many people feel like ‘the worst’ is always going to happen. We are fear-based society, raised in fear-based systems – even our faith is fear-based. Joy is greeted with foreboding, and disappointment is a state of being.

When I got done laughing about this, I had to cry.

Do You Believe in Love?

I struggle to believe
My faith lingers in facts:
Time moves on. People leave.
I live with my bags packed.

My faith confesses fact:
Gifts get taken away.
I live with my bags packed –
“Nothing gold can stay.”

Gifts get taken away
Fears, holding them too tight,
Since “nothing gold can stay,”
Dread keeps us from delight.

Fear makes us grip too tight
And, one foot out the door,
Dread blotting out delight,
Does absence faith restore?

My one foot’s out the door,
Time’s moved on. People leave.
Losses leave my heart sore.
I struggle… I believe.


I felt this TED talk rated another repeating poem – but just to be difficult, I have returned to pantoums. Jone’s our hostess today, with a smart interview with the author of a most gorgeous ekphrastic anthology – and Jone herself has a photograph included. Thanks, Jone, and Happy Poetry Friday.

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I enjoyed writing with a mentor text so much the other day that I’m going to try it again… (and to be honest, this is the easiest way for me to gently move into blank verse, and avoid my pathological need to rhyme things…) I was introduced to this poem in my small writing group, and just loved its simplicity. But, as I’m practicing not evading, its simplicity turns my eyes a new way.

One of the simplest truths about humans is that they are fear-based species. About a year ago, the National Geographic did a whole piece on how our fear drove our evolution (yay?). It’s an unpleasant truth, isn’t it? But our ability to fight or flee or freeze has made us who we are…

Others have used Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Valentine for Ernest Mann” as a mentor text and taken it a new direction – today I’ll be replacing courage with poetry. Or is poetry actually courage?

Getting to Grips with the Gift

You can’t order courage like you order fries.
Move up in the drive through and, say, “two orders, animal-style”
and wait for the shiny-faced young person
to hand you a waxed-paper box.

Still, it’s a worthy quest.
Demanding of the cosmos, “Give me courage,
I need to be brave,” rates something in reply –
Maybe more than the expected:
Courage collects. Behind the bunker called Fear,
it is bunched up under a drift of “fight” or “flight. It
crawls from beneath the bed, but crouches, trembling
at the edge of the stage
when it is our turn to step out into the spotlight.

It erupts at the call of karaoke,
sometimes with no notice.
It pulses to life when your section stumbles.
In realizing, “I recognize this part,” you’re reminded,
And your voice rings out, flaring
bright against the formless dark,
pointing out the path. Your singing,
no better than it has been before, but for
love of song, you break ranks and shove aside
silence. When courage layers a chord,
it discloses the secrets that fuel it,
forcefully vouchsafing that though we fear,
fear can be forced away.

Maybe if we refuse what secrets and silence suggest,
we cultivate courage. Spread your shutters, loose
your lion heart, and approach the subject which distresses you.
Let courage grow.

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When I was a student teacher, one of the big discussions we had – when we weren’t being fed careful sips of theory from our lovely teachers – was how to acclimate children to the dark and jagged place the world could sometimes be. I find it deeply ironic that, as a writer – in writing groups and at conferences and such, that’s still the same question we spend a lot of time on. How much do we tell them? How much do we reveal?

That refrain always reminds me Maggie Smith‘s poem. How much do we keep from the children? And how much do they know anyway?

Futures

Adults struggle, though we keep this from the children.
Adults struggle, and we struggle still
and in a million different ways regret
the choice to keep it hidden. What brought us here
we keep it from the children. A fear-based beat
drums deeply through our bodies, and that’s our
normal, though we needn’t tell the children.
For every friend, a bully stalks the playground.
For every clear drop, a neighborhood drinks down lead
from the River Flint. Trust is an alien potsherd excavated
by antiquarianists, baked in the dust of injustice on a
planet so profoundly and purposely poisoned it breaks you,
though we hide this from the children. Are we not trying
to market equity? Any bullish trader,
upselling such a valueless commodity, rattles on
about futures: This one could be the big one,
right? A little investment, and it could mean security.

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The Poetry Sisters’ recent pantoum project reminded me of how much I have disliked repeating poetry forms – but the pantoum was fine. However, I recently compared the pantoum to the villanelle. For a rigid topic, a villanelle works SO well – short lines, direct ideas. It’s good for inescapable truths. A pantoum sometimes leaves more wiggle room…

Pivoting back to my examination this month of those “deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being,” that T.S. Eliot mentions, I started thinking about growing up poor. Talk about an inescapable truth. I remember seeing an hourly pay stub of my mother’s when I was in the seventh grade, and being …afraid. I remember murmured, late night conversations that were probably my parents trying to figure out what to do, what not to pay, how to stretch what we had. That they owned their home was their sole saving grace.

My life is so different! I don’t own my house. I don’t own much. Yet, am I better off?

inescapable

Couch cushions never hid cash
We winkled every last cent
Never allowed to buy “trash.”

Squirreling away in a cache,
So youth could not be ‘misspent.’
Couch cushions never hid cash.

Washed and pressed – neat, not slapdash.
“Who do you girls represent?”
No one could call us poor trash.

Concocted “cures” for a rash.
A doctor’s care? Infrequent.
Couch cushions never hid cash.

In school we read of the Crash,
Kids worked in fields for the rent
They even reused their trash.

Treats – cash and candy – I stashed
Where I hid my discontent.
Couch cushions never hid cash,
We were never allowed to buy trash.

How’s that for not “evading,” my truths, Mr. Eliot?

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It’s one of those weeks where I’ve already lost track of what day it is — being busy on the weekend sometimes does that to you, when you have a List of things that need to be done by Monday.

I’ve been reading up on the little mental aberrations that humans in sport endure – the yips, the twisties, the waggles. They’ve all got such cute names, but they represent the times where your body says “No,” and you forget how to throw, how to bat, how to land, if you’re midair in a flip.

I don’t think sport is the only arena in which human beings encounter mental blocks…

trapped

if we just believed
the psychologists tell us
we’d be limitless
but we’re mimes in glass boxes
walls built of anxiety

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Another year, another eclipse, though we’re nowhere near the totality this time – though there must be myriads of people hastily traveling from here to there, eager to see the moon blot out the sun. I saw an eclipse in the first grade, and they were SO EMPHATIC about us not blinding ourselves that to this day, I don’t think of an eclipse without a mild sense of lingering dread. Though it is indeed dangerous to blind yourself with the sun, it’s a little sad when the wonder is wrung out of a thing due to warnings and reminders and instructions. It’s a bit sad that I don’t know why people hop on planes, drive for hours, and insist on being there… what are they looking for?

april 8, 2024

klaxons sound warnings
in silence totality
swallowing us whole

like birth, we’re released
the ineffable, reached for
while we stand, gazing

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ACHOO!

Ugh, I am coming down with a cold. I played – outside – with a four-year-old all afternoon, who is getting over one, and despite the abundance of fresh air, my body, eager to pick up any little germ and panic about it, immediately decided to take this cold on. I can look forward to a fever tonight, and I’m already feeling run down and chilled. Just from a wee little cold – but nothing is “common” with my immune system, which is ready, at all times, to jump into action and overreact in any situation.

Hah, yes, as a matter of fact, I DO know people like that, too… and how exhausting that must be. I can’t imagine worrying that people would forget me if I wasn’t spinning up like an ambulance siren, complete with flashing lights, but psychologists explain that’s often the case, that people who create chaos dread being forgotten or ignored.

I’ll try to walk in shoes that put me on the path to compassion, since I find this personality type particularly trying…

drama llama

chasing life’s chaos:
Here in the eye of the storm
I’m choosing its spin.

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Extended family isn’t something I ever talk about, or write about, I realize. Those… extensions run a long way, and while I don’t love them any less for it, those extensions rarely ever lend themselves to poetry. However, this morning I considered the OTHER extended family I have, by law.

Cousin Mary Lee’s prompt to the Inklings’ poetry group this month was a haiku sequence in which they, using a mentor poem, talked about the topic of poetry without mentioning it by name. I was inspired to approach my own connections thusly, in a roundabout, gingerly fashion, carefully not naming – but letting the outline of a thing define its shape. I used both religious and forensic metaphors, which reflect specifics, and I was amazed by how much I wanted to reveal, when the object is to, in part, hint and obscure. I’ll have to try this again sometime…

A Last Supper

Actions speak louder
Than the space between silence –
Would you pass the salt?

hearts hide in plain sight
seeking, though silent. Something
Sings out its presence

prodigals plead for
reunion, not reckoning
choke on fatted calves

if we measure life
not in time, but in heartbreak
we’d call time of death

crisply chalked outline –
officially declare it
done: on to dessert


Poetry Friday today is hosted by Irene @ Live Your Poem.

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No observation of a family excludes siblings… I have SUCH …variant siblings (*waves*). You might think “variant” is just another way of saying “weird” (and… you’d be right, let’s face it [*waves again, then ducks*]). But, more genuinely, variant is another way to say exceptional.

I like the word “exceptional” a lot for this. We talked about being “2e’s” in the early 2000’s educational psychology circles. 2e’s were exceptional, both in being gifted AND in being highly challenged scholastically and emotionally. In many ways, this is the shelf on which all of us are classified, but I think in terms of my siblings, especially those with whom I share blood, of the gifts divided between us, this clearly speaks to the proficiency well as the flaws that come as our inheritance.

I’ve also given a lot of thought to ideas of quantum, since my mother’s blood quantum allows her to claim Native Ancestry.

She has not.

Inheritance

Quantum
Defined by blood
Explores questions of “sum.”
Does mere birthright change Us to Them?
How come?

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Relationships with parents remind me that their parents had dreams, goals, and expectations which they passed along, pressed into them like clay, and which affected… us, their progeny. From the other side, my mother’s experiences with me must have been somewhat terrifying. I wasn’t the first child – by far – but the one who was so different than the others, it must have been a little off-putting.

Materhood

She told me, at birth
I was like a new gadget:
Boxed, with no handbook.
Just rows of shiny buttons.
Just so many ways to break.