{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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My GOODNESS, it’s nearly the penultimate week of the month! Time to check in again with this month’s NPM Objective from The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), “Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.” – T.S. Eliot

A level deeper into my, erm, substratum, I think of the unnamed feelings I have surrounding the well-meaning. There is a woman with whom I peripherally interact in my volunteer work who is a fervent inclusivity ally. She consistently grabs the spotlight with her dogged insistence on letting all and sundry know that if anyone ‘better’ comes along to do any of the tasks she’s been assigned, she will step aside for them. That would only makes sense in a work environment, to move aside for the better qualified – and a savvy manager would make sure that happened. However, this is volunteer work, and her “better” is always a person of color.

Have you ever tried to grab hold of the amorphous reasons behind WHY something feels discomfiting? Have you ever tried to do so in a poem? I have been sitting with those feelings and here I am – going to, without a mentor poem this time – blank them onto the page. (This IS A DRAFT, NOT A POEM) Am I going to want to make it all at least rhyme tomorrow? YES. Am I going to feel like it’s incoherent enough not to address real feelings? Yes. Is that going to matter? No – because… feelings, duh. If I knew why it was bothering me, I could write a better poem, but alas, smoke and sand…

Draft, Untitled 4/18

The more you try to hold them in your hands
The more the tumbled grit slithers away
You’re micro in the cosmic, that’s your place
Let go! There’s nothing you need understand.

What troubles you is trouble’s thinning skin.
You’re triggered, primed, and spoiling for a fight.
So packed inside you’re ripe enough to crack
But you’re a lady, so you pack it in.

Dust riding on the wind can’t slow this train
Unless that windstorm’s fine enough to choke.
When engines, falter, wheezing your mistake,
Make common cause with nomads, wait for rain…

We see all that we have here, what is known,
Is all our people need is all we lack.
Yet somehow, hearts abraded still, we chafe
Hands fumbling after smoke that’s being blown.

Have you been following this year’s Progressive Poem? I am kicking myself for not jump in to add lines on an earlier date, in a way, as the poem now has… like, a name and an identity now, and maybe I should have worked with it when it was more of an amorphous zygote!? I hope I don’t ruin it.

Meanwhile, Poetry Friday is celebrated today at Second Cousin Heidi’s juicy little universe, where you’ll find poems with clarity – and titles. Happy Friday.

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Mom has what she calls a “Senior Moment” when she walks into a room and forgets what she came for. I have what I call ‘Dyscalculia Moments.’ Today it was the date – I literally read the 1 and the 7 on the calendar as a 1 and a 2. I often invert numbers and/or completely make them up, so it shouldn’t surprise me. And, yet it gives me a double-take each time.

John Hopkins University has a Mathematics of Music course. The American Mathematical Society has a whole page exploring the intersection of mathematics and music. For a long time as a kid, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t “get” reading music, remembering time signatures and what all the little patterns meant. As an adult, learning about the way my brain works and does not… well, now I get it.

This will never be effortless for me. This will never not be a problem. I’m learning to be unembarrassed, and to accept the good. Look at the intricacies of sheet music, and I can understand that! Look at me claim the weird little things that I do to make my life function: see the tiny notations in my music, places to put my pencil so I can count? It’s not ‘Touch Math’ as its taught in many school districts, but it’s close – and it works for me.

Everyone has coping mechanisms, I remind myself. May yours continue to work for you.

Mistakes Were Made

Mistaken, yet again
My blunders make me sigh.
“This too shall pass.” But when!?
Perhaps before I die?

My blunders make me cry.
Burnt cookies in the bin!
Perhaps before I’ll die,
I’ll know twenty’s not ten?

Burnt cookies in the bin…
“Too late to reapply.”
Can’t rely on my brain,
My calendar’s awry.

“Too late to reapply.”
And can’t apply my brain.
My whole schedule’s awry.
Numbers drive me insane.

Can’t rely on my brain.
This too shall pass. But, when
Math gives me a migraine
Mistake are made, again.

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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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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.


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.


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.

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From the beginning of my life, my relationship with my Dad has been… fraught. This year began with health issues, and aging issues, and though I am trying to reframe that relationship, I am learning that I must first take the time to look at it… Have you ever wondered what went wrong in a relationship which was supposed to be easy? Family – you’re born with those people. Why aren’t they your easiest relationships?


In early memory I said, “No,”
His opposite in every light,
His preference for my sisters clear
He left me home rather than fight.

His opposite in every light,
My busy fingers matched a mind
He left me home rather than fight
Me, whimsy-filled more than with sense.

My busy fingers matched a mind,
Head-deep in books and story-blind.
Me, whimsical, not filled with sense,
My world a foreign one to him.

Head-deep in books, I, story-blind
There was no chance we’d meet as friends
My world wholly foreign to him
Two aliens, too alien.

Never a chance to live as friends
Since children reap what others sow –
Two aliens, too alien
We failed to thrive, too starved to grow.