{pf: poetry sisters “in the style of”}

Welcome, February, that shortest month, which is crammed with celebrations of African Americans, romance, presidents, and, oddly, pie. And cherries – though I am afraid the blossoms will this year be somewhat delayed. Nevertheless, we celebrate – and please join us in welcoming scientist and fellow word nerd, Rebecca Holmes as she joins the poet-ing this month.


The first time I read Marilyn Nelson’s “Minor Miracle” I thought to myself that this was her “Incident” poem. “Incident,” by Countee Cullen, is a short, and unemotional rendering of a small child’s trip to Baltimore, and the emotional stab at the end is not worse than the first, but somehow more painful for the lack of bleeding. In Nelson’s poem, the unemotional accounting persists and allows the reader space to take in both the offense and the conclusion from the same distance. It is a small moment, writ large emotionally. Our task this month was to write a poem “in the style of” Marilyn Nelson’s work, and identify and acknowledge a minor miracle of our own.

Part of the fun this month was our return to collaborative poetry. One of the gifts of writing in a group is observing processes, asking questions, and helping to illuminate the areas in which we are struggling. Oh, and yeah: we struggled. As always. Many of us wanted to grapple with a much bigger topic and make more of a compelling statement, but Nelson’s genius is in crystallizing little moments. So, we step back, dug a little deeper, and tried again.


Poetry’s very brevity makes writing about the nuances of mental states much more accessible, and Marilyn Nelson’s unemotional style helps me to center the reader in my mental space – an infinitesimal speck in a suddenly too-big world, at a loss both individual and commonly held. We have all of us, at one time or another, been lost and found:

Oban to Glasgow 18

lost and found

Which reminds me of another road
four ribbons of sun-bright black unspooling and I,
On some needful errand, motored on, serene,
toward erasure:
The highway my wheels touched, at once
the same as all other roads, both known and
wildly unfamiliar. I slowed, crept, edged
toward its rigid graveled margins, blinking
eyes gone wide and stinging,
                    Lost is a path with criss-crossing tracks.
                        Lost is a tall tree in a quiet clearing,
                            And ten thousand acres of green.
A road, going somewhere,
An exit, and a faded service station.
Big trucks and diesel, hard-faced men in trucker hats
And a neutral beige efficiency car,
lost in the middle of too close to be too far gone.
Embarrassment tangled my fingers as I sought my phone –
No coverage in my area, no money for a map.
Pride swallowed, I called my Compass. Collect.
Static on the payphone line, as I recited
The words to shape the world: my street, my city, my state.
Landmarks affixed in the jumble of my universe.
  With help, it doesn’t take long to rewind the world.
    Heard over my heartbeat, words of direction
      A moment of grace, and the panic receded.
Finding the onramp took more time than the call:
Get back on the highway, pass two more exits, take the third.
Inaudible breath, and the world regains focus.
                    Found is a mesa set over a valley.
                        Found is a boulder, feet kissed by the surf
                            A place to climb out of the sea.


The Poetry Sisters Write: Brace for a rough landing with Liz, discover a mystery poem from Tricia, visit Andi, whose poem has both claws and skitter; read Sara’s poem, which made us wince; see Laura’s poem, which reveals our inadequacies, and enjoy Kelly’s poem, written in the throes of aunt-ing.

Wait, there’s more! Poetry Friday today is at Tabatha Yeatts’ blog, The Opposite of Indifference. Happy February – happy weekend, and happy poetry. Stay warm and dry!

{to begin with, the sweet grass}

3.
The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s praising.
It’s giving until giving feels like receiving.
You have a life – just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
still another.

4.

Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
the dancer, the potter,
to make me a begging bowl
which I believe
my soul needs.

And if I come to you,
to the door of your comfortable house
with unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails
will you put something into it?

I would like to take this chance.

I would like to give you this chance.

7.
What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.

Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.

That was many years ago.

Since then I have gone out from my confinements,

though with difficulty.

I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.

I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.

They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment

somehow or another).

And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.

I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.

I have become older and, in cherishing what I have learned,

I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?

Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.

Angels

You might see an angel anytime
and anywhere. Of course you have
to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it’s not really
hard. The whole business of
what’s reality and what isn’t has
never been solved and probably
never will be. So I don’t care to
be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty. For myself, but not
for other people. That’s a place
you just can’t get into, not
entirely anyway, other people’s
heads.

I’ll just leave you with this.
I don’t care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It’s
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.

Rest in power, Mary Oliver, whose gifts will still reverberate.

{pf 2019: p7 jumps in}

welcome to another poetry friday!


We ended the year pretty quietly here, with an unexpected, but well-enjoyed little break. I’m glad to be back and participating in another year (YEAR ELEVEN!) of writing with Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Liz Garton Scanlon, Laura Purdie Salas, Andromeda Jazmon, Sara Lewis Holmes, and Kelly Ramsdell Siegel, and occasionally John Lewis. (Do I want to call him Little John, because he is Sara’s little brother, and having our own Little John makes us sound like a Robin Hood girl gang? Yes. Yes, I do. Will I restrain myself? …er, maybe?)

Our January poem is the ekphrastic, chosen by the one and only Tricia who gently prodded us out of holiday hibernation with a clarion call of “are we doing something for January or naw?” The ekphrastic is one of my favorite poetic forms for its combination of imagery and imagination. Examine an image, be inspired, and create a poem: what could be easier? (Wait, why are you laughing?)

The images we used come courtesy of Tricia via Bon à Tirer Prints & Monotypes: From the Center Street Studio Archives on view February 22 through May 11, 2018, in the Joel & Lila Harnett Museum of Art, at the University of Richmond in Virginia. I chose an image by the American artist Janine Wong called Color Equation 2. I dearly wish that I could see this in person. That’s the only potential drawback to the ekphrastic. Ah, well.

This image is a single impression print embellished with etching; aquatint, which is a copper plate etched with nitric acid; chine collé, which is a technique imported from China which uses a tissue-thin paper cut to the size of the printing plate and a larger, thicker support paper below to create a neat background effect; and hand-sewing on paper. Aside from learning a great deal about printing just from studying up on this piece, I examined it for other details and associations it could spark. The clustered circles reminded me of connections – first, between the artist and Paul Klee, or between mentors and learners, or parents and children… even families in a family tree. It reminded me of outlines and flowcharts. Of, weirdly, biology — something about this is kind of floral. (Eggs? Seeds? Puddles? Cells? DNA clusters?) It also made me think of Tech Boy, because it made me think of snooker. Billiards. Pool.

One very memorable day, Tech Boy pool sharked an entire group of relatives. It wasn’t a fun game, but a grim one, where various parties challenged him to play, in an attitude of “you’re not as good as you think you are.” After he methodically wiped the table with them, one after the other, we went home. It was a Pyrrhic victory, and he hasn’t played pool with them – or publicly, that I know of – again. And he used to be good – very, very good. Good enough to bet on.

In 2017, the number one star of the ranked trick shot world (yes, this is apparently a Thing?) was a man ESPN called “The Gentleman.” (He could join our girl gang. I’m just saying.) William “The Gentleman” DeYonker has perfectly recreated and invented thousands of trick shots with a singular focus that he says comes from seeing the table in his head in three dimensions. This is not the way the “neurotypical” thinker sees the world. The Gentleman sees a trick in the abstract, and instead of having to practice it endlessly, he …just does it. That ball will need to go there to make this ball do that to get these balls to go there. The geometry proofs run in his head: click, tap, spin, rebound. The Gentleman’s mother loves to see him play, and is his personal sponsor, and cheerleader. The lines between them are strong; she is with him, all the way.

Snooker in the UK is televised …and is about as interesting to me as watching golf (which is also televised in Scotland, go figure). But, things pick up when the commentators stops analyzing the players and follow the ball. The sports channels project possible paths the ball will travel over the green baize, forecasting a series of perfect angles for perfect outcomes. In today’s image, the lines the artist stitched in between and through the circles bring to mind possible paths for a ricocheting poeple. Tap, bump, spin, dunk.

There are lines between us — lines that tell us what connects us, strings that pull taut and outline a path, maps to show us how to claim the treasure of our best selves. As we trace those lines between ourselves and those we claim, may we be authentic – neurodivergent, maybe, weird, perhaps, but honest – following our course, action and reaction, cause and effect, straight and true.


Poetry Friday is hosted today at the blog of poet Sylvia Vardell. Please don’t forget to seek out the work of the other Poetry Sisters participating today – Laura, Tricia, Kelly, Sara, and Liz.

Additional Poetry News:

* The National Poetry Month poster contest for high school students is on!

* It’s a great year for poetry everywhere – tons more is in the public domain.

*I got a giggle out of this poetry written by people waiting for SF Muni buses. (Dad drove for them when I was wee.)

*NPR’s poetry recommendations for 2019.

*Leonard Cohen’s last poems released by his publisher – to a rather blunt review that says it’s for fans only. Which would be many of us.

*Officially, U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast began this past fall, but as of this month, The Slowdown is on public radio stations! A perfect replacement for other poetry programs on public radio you may have missed. (Also, anyone want to buy a bookstore? As long as we’re replacing things, we need somewhere to put all those new poetry books, right?)

{poetry friday: p7 list poems}

Wow, December pounced like a crouching cat; one moment invisible, the next, a lightning fast blur, possibly with claws. We were not prepared. Fortunately, this month, the Poetry Seven are celebrating with a list poem.

I fell in love with list poems in grad school, where I was introduced to the work of Christopher Smart, a man who was remarked upon by Samuel Johnson and others of his day, as brilliant, if mad. Despite the alleged madness, he wrote one of the most beautiful examples of list poetry from the 18th century.

List poems, all beginning with all the same word, have no rhyme or meter requirements. The idea of “making a list, checking it twice,” is an accessible entrance into poetry, and I invite everyone to jump in and try one. Of course, being the Poetry Sisters and closing out our TENTH YEAR of writing poetry together (YOU GUYS. OUR FIRST CROWN SONNET WAS IN 2008), we had to give ourselves (but not you) a few more challenges. Liz challenged us to use two words from this list: paper, stars, messages, promises, dirt, flour, rum, hope. (Yeah, we’re all a little horrified at the dirt rum, too.) Okay! So, you’re ready to jump in?

No? You’re stalling — fine. Go, read a list poem from one of the other sisters. I’ll wait — go on, go see what Laura’s doing. Or Sara. Or Andi. Or Liz. Or Tricia. Or, Kelly. You can even check in with the rest of the poets at the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted today by Elizabeth Steinglass. You’re sure to find a lot to enjoy there.

You’re back? Excellent.

I chose to use the word “at” because a transitional preposition echoes Christopher Smart’s use of “let” and “for” which began the lines of many of his list poems. And, because lately my life has been a series of rehearsals or performances and crashes, I focused on endings.

at evening’s end: a list poem

at last, we sing out Handel’s hallelujah

at this, o faithful (joyful and triumphant) come

at least , we flee – a flurry of good wishes

at best, withdraw before our voice succumbs

at first, trade suits and sleek for tea and flannel

at that, then all is calm, or just less bright;

at home we decompresses with ruminations

at length, compare our stories of the night

at any rate, we, gloriously deshabille

at peace, retreat from glitter’s swirling sway

at times, the evening’s echoes bring us wonder!

at rest, blessedly still, still, still.

If you’re still here at the end of all of my “ats” you get a bonus poem – the one I wrote first. As usual, the minute there’s a Poetry Seven challenge with RULES, my brain produces a poem which flouts them all. So, this isn’t a list poem! But, it does use all the words.

I was thinking about the empty corners of the holidays – when one stands away from the blinking lights and the tinsel, sometimes there is only dark and cold – and weariness. Those are the times I pull out the decorations made from old cards, the photographic card I’ve kept, and remember past good wishes and fond hopes. Intentional celebration seeks out the roots of joy — and that root is the selfless gift of an open heart – whether you believe that’s a divine heart, or merely the heart of family and friends. Celebrate that — whatever else you do this month.

the evidence

the snipped-out shapes of cherubim

from greeting cards amassed

are miscellaneous monuments

to ghosts of christmas past.

from piles of portraits, faces shine

now taller, older, — gone…

scrawled messages of “hope to see!”

– a future counted on.

these heart-bright scraps – these paper stars

in card stock firmament

ignite the night with promises

leaving love’s fingerprint.

{thanksfully: 30}

Steinhart Aquarium 008

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a sucker for water. Not exactly agile on land (#MyNameIsNotGrace), I have always wanted a lake, a beach, a pond, a pool — something which reveals my inner graceful naiad. For now, I’m mostly content with my bathtub, though I keep my flippers handy, and keep hoping…

mermaid

gravity drags down
a weighted anchor mooring,
earthbound, flighty fey.
but slip its surly grasp, brush
free the world above.

{thanksfully: 29}

Thunder and lightning this morning, just in time for errands – but I can’t even be annoyed about it. Sitting in traffic with the rain pattering down is almost meditative, if I’m in the right frame of mind. And, as often as one sits in traffic around here, one gets into the right frame of mind, or gets an ulcer!

traffic

red tail-lights blooming
a garden of impatience
as we stop-and-go
the wiper’s swish, hypnotic
lulls my mind into daydream

{thanksfully: 28}

My little brother’s birthday today… I wish his troubles were as easy as when he was two – a fear of trains, dogs, loud noises, and sitting still. Instead, he’s gone on to other difficulties, and has to plough his way through them, solo. Hard-headed, fuzzy-faced kid.

d-ball

he didn’t want books
basketballs, what he preferred
sheepish, with a smile
turning down my little gifts
going his own stubborn way

{thanksfully: 27}

‘Tis the season for rehearsals every five minutes, and last night I watched my friend A. sing through her piece for our chamber group’s winter concert. Last year, I watched her do the same, heard her perform, saw her husband and boys proudly in the audience. A week later, her husband was dead.

I thought she’d not sing again so soon, yet there she was last night, singing her heart out, letting the sass and joy in her music shine.

A. probably would demur if I told her how much her spine steels my own, but it does. The woman is a phoenix. She has risen from countless blows to keep standing, and to pull her kids up to stand tall, too. Today I’m grateful for the silent examples of resilience we all have in our lives. May today be the day we say “thank you.”

View from Barry's House 26

sing down the sun

the bird sings alone
atop its 3 a.m. perch
nevermind the dark
it knows that dawn is waiting
just over the farthest hill

{thanksfully: 23-25}

Cooking With Scraps 1

with that which remains
abandoned ends and oddlings
we shall richness fête


I hate to fail. Normally I would have post-dated these posts and gone on with the pristine record of doing a gratitude post every day as I wanted to but… the truth is, I started having a Predator flare the night of the 22nd. I knew I’d be ramping up during Thanksgiving Day. I didn’t realize it would be bad enough that my brain would be filled with static, and I would be unable to get up Friday except to go to the massage table for Tech Boy to loosen my back a bit, and then get right back into bed… but that’s what happened.

my body served up
one more reason to say thanks:
the help of loved ones

I’ve tried to pretend that my autoimmune disorder doesn’t really affect my life that much. It does. I’ve tried to believe that because my labs were normal ten days ago that they’ll stay normal forever, and that the only work ahead is to get back stamina and strength in weakened muscles and body systems.

Nope.

it is what it is –
this, both uncomfortable truth
and quiet comfort

Today I’m grateful for having both a heart and mind – one may rage, but the other overrules and allows me to be patient with my own limitations.

{thanksfully: 22}

Here comes the rain, da-da-da-dah, here comes the rain… This is a retread of last season’s autumnal hymns, and while we can’t see the moon just now – due to either smoke or clouds – it’s nice to know the season is turning, turning, and whirling into the next steps of the dance.

Pleasant Hill463

Autumn Announcement

Contrails streak skylines, white on blue,
Crossing guards heed the avenue,
Breath makes its halo misty cloud
Fog folds the land within its shroud.

Schoolyards burst forth with racous noise
Squirrels scold unheeding girls and boys
Bees labor long on winter’s hoard
While stores display their festive gourds

Landscape takes shades of orange and gold
Ocher and azure, tawny, bold
This serves as notice: time runs on
In this seasonal marathon

Bright as a coin, the harvest moon
Draws down the drapes of afternoon,
Last gasp of summer’s bright caprice,
Leaves pass out autumn’s press release.