{pf: p7 attempts instruction poems}

Offensive Mugs 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central California Driving 46

parting gifts

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

making a play for the golden state

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

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

{#npm’17: while we’re waiting}

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

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

I loathe waiting.

untidy mind

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

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

{#npm’17: subtraction & excuses}

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

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

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

That Will to Divest

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

– Kay Ryan

I’m finding this goes for packing, too…

{#npm’17: over the next hill}


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

Crockett 10

so many adventures could come today

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

{#npm’17: a writer’s annunciation}

Annunciation

Blessed, blessed

are you, for

I

will make you weep

when the light hits the grass

in the morning.

I will make you crave

conversation like red

meat, lay you

weak, at the feet

of strangers. I will open

lives like vistas

before you

that you will never

seal.

Read the rest of the poem at Read, Write, Believe

Portland 116

Some days the world will crack us open. Some days, we will write, as Sherman Alexie famously said, in blood, because we remember what it felt like to bleed. And no matter how long it takes to get a character across the kitchen floor, maybe the trick is to keep writing.

{#npm’17: borrowing from martha}

This happens almost at the end of every NPM project; I get my momentum going to get out one last novel before the summer slump hits publishing, and so I am working wildly, finishing a revision while another novel makes new rounds. Yes, I have determined that the rejection was a blessing, an opening of a door, and am going to move through it with that.

It’s deliberate, to articulate that this is a blessing, an opportunity. Yesterday a friend who has recently been eviscerated via Kirkus hung up her keyboard. Told me it was no longer worth it. We have struggled together, she and I, over the past few years in response to various crises, and it’s a bit painful to me that she’s quitting – and yet I know that our lives are not identical, and her decision is today, and maybe not forever. But, it’s just got things reverberating through my mind.

Today’s offering isn’t really a poem, more a meditation from Martha Graham, and a response. Tomorrow’s is a poem by poet and novelist Sara Lewis Holmes, who is also one of my poetry sisters. Her thoughts on art and creation have clarity and depth, and often the way they strikes me creates a reason to go forward. I will not reprint the poem here in its entirety, & encourage you all to read it on her site. It’s worth the click, though, as so many of Sara’s poems are. Onward, to today’s post, though:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.

You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

~ Martha Graham

Today I removed
Six accounts of washing hands
two descriptions of slicing
& one commentary on tying an apron from a scene
which should have taken two minutes to finish
but some days
it takes hours to get my characters across
a kitchen floor

I gave up writing this piece
the day Michael Brown gave up his life
a child bleeding to death in the streets meant
my work meant nothing. nothing meant anything
and everything was wrong

it has been a long road back

what does it take to write?
closing my eyes, and going it blind
shutting out the world
in favor of imagination?

what does it take to open myself
to this blesséd unrest?

no artist is pleased
but I must be pleased
to make all worlds mine

{#npm’17: the great outdoors}

I don’t actually know if it was an air rifle, a real rifle, or a BB gun. We were forbidden to touch it. EVER. I was terrified of my grandfather’s ancient gun in the front closet which was, to us, an instrument of death. Tech Boy, however, grew up with his family’s arsenal, so it was easy enough to go along when a friend I’ll call Irish asked if he’d be interested in testing for a gun safety certificate with him.

Irish didn’t grow up with guns quite like Tech Boy, but as he’s hiking the United States portion of the Pacific Crest Trail solo this summer, he’s had a niggling suspicion he should carry protection, especially since the election. As part of a “relocate your Zen” movement, long hikes are trending with new populations, and some hikers in the Bay Area have experienced the great outdoors in new and troubling ways since the new administration, and have felt unsafe. And yet: my seventy year old father hikes his solo eight miles, daily. A (white) teacher of mine solo hiked the Crest Trail every summer, from turning fifty until her retirement, with never an uneasy moment except from stepping too close to the odd rattlesnake or finding herself across a stream from a bear. It’s troubling how a simple walk in open space trails near the Golden Gate Bridge is suddenly fraught with conflict from the human species. It’s no longer negotiating the simple incivilities of the obstreperously backwards; it seems like an entirely new population has emerged from beneath Jim Crow’s graveyard rocks, dragging outdated and putrefying attitudes like a reek of decomposing flesh.

For Irish, it was the bizarre and dreadful incident on the United flight which steeply pitched the thought of taking protection on this hike from amorphous idea to an urgent determination. Raised in a typical Midwestern family, he’d identified as Michigander first, ethnicity second. But, realized that no longer mattered, if it ever did, not to racists. Irish was an infant adoption from Asia, and no longer feels invisible, American, safe.

Now there will be a gun, in a conflict on an isolated trail. A gun will certainly change things, in a stretch of deep woods, on a lonely piece of high desert scrub. But, I’m not sure I know how a gun will help. The whole thing is, honestly, troubling me.

a part of the walk

*with apologies to Henry Reed

today we have the naming of parts
yesterday was the naming of fears
tomorrow we shall have what to do
what to do if we are still afraid
but today, we have
the naming of parts
lock
stock
barrel


today, it is twenty-one hundred miles,
solo, but for the soundless steps
of bears, of birds; of catamount, crouching
tomorrow we shall meet those beasts
of whom we should be most afraid,
but today, we have the trail, the trees,
a man against nature
cartridge
shells
trigger

today it is five foot six, size nine boots hiking
twelve hours a day, seven days a week
can three thousand calories a meal
weigh in on a hiking human’s worth?
on a single heartbeat
the world turns
sulphur
charcoal
saltpetre

count back to when
we reached a time past turning
tomorrow, we shall have regret
today, we have only this
ready

aim

fire

{#npm’17: from books, with love}

Paisley Abbey 22

One of my favorite stories of an infectious book – pardon the really bad pun – happened in a Sunday School Room turned dressing room of Paisley Abbey a few years ago. Our chorus was doing an afternoon performance in this gorgeous venue which was also a bit short on private space, so our soloist for the Stabat Mater, a lovely Irish mezzo called Una McMahon, was crammed in with us regular singers, up a very, very narrow and treacherous spiral slate staircase in a long narrow attic room. She was sitting alone, as the other singers were giving her space, but I thought she was just a ringer from another choir, so I settled in at the otherwise empty table with her, my book in hand… whereupon she leaned across the table and grabbed my arm. “Have you read this book?” she asked, holding up THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot. “Um, no,” I began, intending to tell her my mother’s book club was reading it – but I never got in another word. She was off, so grateful that someone had breached her isolation so she could tell them… It was THE BEST book she had ever READ and I had to go to Waterstones at the tea break and get it IMMEDIATELY and what they did to this POOR WOMAN’S REMAINS was absolutely CRIMINAL, but she had SAVED so many PEOPLE and there was this total ethical stew about it, and people ought to really THINK before they do this type of thing, and… and…

I wanted to hug her delight. I wanted to go trekking across the city (and it was pouring down buckets, so let me tell you about how committed I was feeling) to find a bookstore and get it, right away. When was the last time you felt like grabbing a virtual stranger and pressing a book into their hands? I loved her enthusiasm so very much, and it’s stuck with me these years later.

And as Oprah Winfrey has finally finished her seven-year project to bring this story to film, Mrs. Henrietta Lacks is on my mind again. They stole the cells from her body before it was returned to the family. The lab people nonchalantly went on, working from “material” they had to produce life-saving cells to test Jonas Salk’s virus on. It wasn’t illegal, necessarily. But to keep her family from knowing her contribution to science – because she was the “unimportant” bit – was a bit unfeeling, to say the least.

Long live the immortal cells, and the work that scientists do – and long live the human contribution. May we tenaciously cling to our humane-ity.

epigraph on an immortal life

a theft before her body cooled, fair game in laboratory hands
those bold, immortal cells a boon each scientists could understand

with no permission sought, unknown this treasured life bloomed, undeterred,
her DNA a cornerstone and life to others has conferred.

{#npm’17: still life with linens}

Not having been raised in a family that really “did” Easter (the fourth Thursday in November being the only demonstrably non-pagan holiday prompted our family’s all-out celebration of it, though believing gratitude to be a directive from on high helped, as well firmly believing gratitude has nothing whatsoever to do with America, its fabled friendships with the disenfranchised people it later murdered wholesale, nor with those whose extreme piety created odd sartorial choices that excluded jewelry, but included ginormous buckles), my Sunday was spent listening to Berlioz’s Te Deum and ironing table linens. A very hot iron, flattening wrinkles, a hiss of the spray bottle, the drum of rain against the skylight – and briefly, a sense of order, of peace. All very fleeting and imaginary, yes. But, for a moment, all was right in the world.

& the crooked made straight

control from chaos
order, in a puff of steam
imposed perfection