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Remember those Nike ads from the late 90’s that demanded, “Is It In You?” I never think of those without thinking of Dr. Ruth O. Saxon, one of my brilliant writing professors at Mills College who insisted both literally and metaphorically that we “define the it” in our writing. Graduate school has so much reading and writing that it’s easy to slide into a kind of academia voice wherein you use a lot of words but basically communicate nothing of substance. Ruth rained fire on that, and is often who I think of when I find myself writing around something. So here I am to define my “it.”

questions

Asked, “Is it in you?”
We demanded, “Define ‘it.'”
Questions are a way
To evade assumption’s claim
Forcing “it” to speak its name.


(Explanation: a lot of people don’t know that the first recorded use of the word “microaggression” was in 1970, in an essay by Black American psychologist Chester Middlebrook Pierce (1927-2016). In the case of this poem, the “it” being forced to speak its name is whatever reasoning lurks behind the microaggression of even people who know and love me occasionally assuming that I can do something better than they can, because I’m Black. No: I can’t. I have to practice like every other human being, thank you.

And yes: it’s National Poetry Month, kids. Beware that every interaction with me this month WILL, in fact, turn into a poem…)

{pf: poetry peeps answer the unanswerable}

Welcome to another Poetry Friday Poetry Peeps Adventure!

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge for the month of May! Here’s the scoop: We’re writing in the style of Lucille Clifton’s homage to my hips, and choosing our own body parts to pay homage to. Are you a fan of your neck? Have you always wanted to write a sonnet to the bumps on your tongue? You can read a few body part poems to get your motor running (or, listen to Miss Lucille read! You’ll get goosebumps). Are you game? Good! Whatever song of yourself that you sing, you have a month to craft your creation and share it on May 31st in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.


Welcome to the wondering, as we sit in this space of unanswerable questions. This month’s challenge might have been a bit more complex to me if I hadn’t already been in a sort of… unfettered frame of mind. One thing that committing to writing a poem a day for NPM does for me is break me out of “regular” lines of thought, and make me fall swiftly into a state where I can dive deeper into words. A whole month of thinking sideways made unanswerable questions a little more accessible, a little more instinctual to me.

There are others who grapple with the unanswerable this month. Sara’s poem is here. Tricia’s is here. Here’s Laura’s poem, and Liz’s poem is here, and Mary Lee’s poem is here. Michelle K’s poem is here. Other Poetry Peeps may be checking in throughout the weekend with their poems, so don’t forget to stop by for the roundup. In the meantime, Poetry Friday is hosted today by Ruth, @There Is No Such Thing As A Godforsaken Town. Thanks, Ruth!

From Process…

Our process was less straightforward this time, and more… gauzy. To begin, the Poetry Sisters got together and made lists of unanswerable questions – or what they felt were fairly esoteric questions in the moment. The list was long, but they were a delight to read through. How many rings in a doorbell? Where does an echo go? What is the best time to lose? How do you know when you’re grown? Who loves you best? What color is a mirror? How much change is enough? Why now? What does the oak know?

Last month, Padraig Ó Tuama’s prompts for the pantoum really resonated with me. We were instructed to write a line about something that’s become ordinary for us, or to write a line showing us an object that’s associated with this ordinariness. In answering the prompt, I wrote about dirt, about dust and birds, fence posts, and the horizon through the window. What else, I wondered, could I expand on in a way that embraced the ordinary? People are cottage-core fixated on the After of the Before & After phases, when things are pretty, when the flowers are blooming and the honeysuckle is curling ’round the door. Cottagecore doesn’t seem to encompass sweating and tripping over dirt clods.

The question that appealed most to me was a variation on the last… What does the oak know…about me? A few years ago, I wrote a mask poem about a plum tree which narrated its concerns (or lack of them), about the phoebe which lived in its branches, its human, and the world around it. I think of this poem as in conversation with that one.

…To Poem

What does the garden remember of us? The weeding, turning, digging, and planting? The watering, sweating, grunting, squealing (in joy or dismay when spiders or crane fly larvae make themselves known)? The sighing, early morning stumbling, surly muttering or full-voice singing over the noise of the tiller? What do any of us know of this season, in comparison to what it knows about us?

A Garden Remembers

The bite of a hoe, bright, invasive fang,
The dull grind of knees against soil,
Back-and-forth boots, combative, they bang
The grunts born of splinters, sweat, toil.

The fork and the tines, the lift and the turn
(The YEEEUCH! as fly grubs are flung far)
The scent of the balm smoothed on for windburn,
The brown of earth easing our scars.

A flop, falling flat. CO2 cloud exhale,
A silence of survey benign.
A humming that swells into chorus full scale,
A hymn for the living enshrines.


Padraig’s last questions in the prompt list are, “What is a single feeling you have about this ordinary thing? What do you most wish to say about this ordinary thing?” To which I can only answer – it is, and I am, and together, we are – a living thing. May you raise your own hymn to the living this weekend, revel in your ordinary extraordinariness.

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Today is one in a series of drearily overcast, windy, drippy with fog, and chilly, but not really that cold days that are just… depressing. It’s a day to light candles and try to think of lighter things, as the heaviness of the sky presses in. In Scotland, we called days like these – with the requisite added rain – dreich. (Digression: I always wonder why some things catch on and others don’t – we’re all about our hygge [though I know very few English speakers who pronounce it properly], but people don’t seem to have found dreich as easy to love. At least it’s easier to say!)

I think my rather low state of mind is in response to a conversation. Several friends having recently received adult diagnoses of neurodivergence are navigating the responses and processing the news – and the reactions. While some embrace getting those diagnoses in adulthood, others are deeply resistant, holding a “What does it matter now? We’re out of school!” attitude. I get it: a diagnosis today won’t yank us back through a time machine and allow us the scholastic accommodation we needed, no. But, when I tried expressing some of what it does give people to discover – at last – that there’s a name for what they’ve struggled with their whole lives, and that there are reasons behind their feeling out-of-step, I heard, “I’m not going around telling people I’m defective. You can tell everyone on the internet that you are, and that works for you, but not for me.”

As my friend Claire always says, Jeez O! Ouch.

Here’s the thing: telling “everyone” on the internet that I’m “defective” does not, in fact, “work for me.” Every single time I use the word ‘dyscalculia’ or speak openly about my repeated failures to pass the state exams to teach in a public schools, for instance – it is hard. Every interview for Henri Weldon where a classroom teacher or librarian asked if the character was grounded in anyone I knew or my own life, it was hard. No one enjoys exposing failures. But if we don’t normalize disability through visibility, it will always be stigmatized. We will always rob people of feeling acceptance and joy in their identity. We will continue to allow people to blame themselves for a perceived deficit and internalize feelings of worthlessness to the “normal” neurotypical world. We will always have people hiding what they see as anomalous parts of themselves that are merely different, not bad. We will always continue to fail as a society.

It doesn’t “work for me.” Most of my life, it’s worked against me. But, it’s me – and I claim all of me, even the parts that don’t work like everyone else’s.

and untitled draft

Fear not: we are unbroken,
Though the world tried teaching shame,
Standing, we’re still outspoken.

Truths we hold our only token:
Who we are is all we’ll claim.
Unbowed, we are unbroken,

Though we’ve only just awoken
To a Self we used to blame.
Stand, and remain outspoken,

Our new-born courage oaken,
Solidly intent declaim –
“Fear? Not we. As the unbroken,

We cannot waste time soft-spoken.
Too much is riding on this game.
Stand and remain: outspoken.

Let acceptance you find soak in,
Stretch tall, fully as you claim:
Fearless, we are, unbroken,
Standing, we will remain outspoken.

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Whew! So glad we got the Progressive Poem launched yesterday and is on its way! Long have I admired people who can write collaboratively, because of how cruddy I normally am at doing so… I have tried writing linked short stories (a shared town/setting), flash fiction (a shared six words), and a novel with other people. ALL OF THEM were dismal, abysmal failures. (Imagine hyper-controlling child me complaining to an adult that So-and-so’s not PLAYING RIGHT!” Yeah.) Maybe the trick is only to contribute a couplet at a time. Or, maybe the trick is for me not to be in charge in any way, shape, or form, and take such ownership of a thing I’m unable to be flexible and collaboratively open with it. Hmmm.

I have a good friend with whom I share this tendency – but it’s a teensy bit ironic that neither of us likes public speaking, we don’t crave leading, and we’re both always rattled and in need of a quiet padded room when it’s over with. However, when things are disorderly and shambolic, neither of us can stand THAT. Like so many women, I will wade in and DO. Even when it’s not my circus and not my monkeys. This is a bad habit. No, really – despite all the people glad to see me coming: this is a bad habit. People should sort their …um, stuff, and the longer I enable them to go without doing so, the worse I make it for everyone. ::sigh::

NOT MY CIRCUS: A Meditation

You don’t have to be the boss,
Despite how you come across
Sometimes your best work is backstage,
So, find a chair and disengage.

Despite how you come across,
Heed the voice inside of you!
Go find a chair and disengage.
Let that wisdom carry you.

Heed the voice inside of you –
Don’t “gird your loins” and “join the fight.”
Let this wisdom carry you:
Set “heavy” down, and pick up “light.”

Don’t brace yourself and join the fight –
Not every burden’s labeled “Bear.”
Set “heavy” down, and grab some “light.”
Not everything is your affair.

Not every burden’s yours to “Bear,”
Sometimes your best bet is backstage.
Not everything is your affair,
You do not HAVE to be the boss.

May ignoring everyone running around like headless chickens be your forte.

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Yesterday I lost two — TWO!!! — needles whilst working on an embroidery project. I’d been doing some yard work, and the sequel to all of the hoeing and weed-ripping was The Body Strikes Back (kinda like the Empire, but hopefully somewhat smaller). My joints swell, and holding onto small things becomes challenging, much to my annoyance. Himself has a cure for this – he’s rigged up a little plastic box with two rows of magnets inside, which he happily runs along the floor until he can find the errant slivers of metal. It’s nice to have someone always handy with a solution. And look – I’ve lost two needles – and somehow mislaid a poetry post – and yet the planet still spins. Imagine that.

Thoughts on the Occasion of Losing A Needle, Again: A Tanka

Guess it could be worse:
You could have lost your flosses,
Or misplaced your eyes.
Stitches affix the fiction
That you haven’t lost the plot.

Marriage

You know you’re a match
Their pluses match your minus
The math just works out.

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Okay, this is WILDLY off-topic for my project this month, but I have to do it anyway, because Reasons.

Author Charlie Jane Anders did a brief series of reviews for ‘terrible gender-swapping’ films in her newsletter this week, and admitted that she’d never seen the 1993 Robin Williams comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Neither does she want to see it, but invited reviews of it on her behalf – in haiku only.

See what I mean? I need to write this haiku because REASONS.*

A 90’s Movie Truism

fat folks in films, and
women of a certain age:
interchangeable

Level Up Your Parenting: Do Drag!

he was a “bad” dad:
but such a stellar nanny…
was it just the dress?

The Reason We Watched

a diamond in mud
shines despite its circumstance:
We loved you, Robin.

*With apologies if this is your all time favorite film. It wasn’t terrible, exactly, it was just… a 90’s movie… reflecting an epically wretched, horrifying era.

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I kind of hate the waste of a waxed amaryllis. It’s such a popular holiday gift, but the wax renders the plant useless for composting, and also creates an impenetrable boundary for the roots to cross. People watch them bloom, and throw them out. I’m sure I’ve whinged about this before.

I’m relieved that the ones I rescued survived to go outside. I’m thrilled that one is standing tall.

leafed

greenery brilliant
glowing red petals, spattered
and weather-beaten:
sturdy beauty’s cultivar
affirms what it takes to bloom.

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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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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