{remember, your color’s green}

Sorrow is Not My Name

      —after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.

—for Walter Aikens

– by Ross Gay, from the 2011 collection, Bringing the Shovel Down

{poetry friday: p7 play “Statues in the Park”}

How on earth is it already August!? This year has seemed to be the longest parade of awful, ever but somehow this summer is flying by like greased lightning. I guess it’s just that the pace of the chaos has sped up…? Who can tell. This week, I’m writing poetry from a new garret, in a house still filled with the odd unpacked box or stack of somethings.

Vacaville 2Vacaville 1

Our August Poetry Project is another Salas Special, wherein Laura gave us the title and let us go hog wild. Well, that’s never a good idea for me. I was stumped for ideas for a hot minute until I narrowed down my Flickr selections of statues to the actual park, and not entryways, old buildings, cemeteries… These bronze statues are in a graveled park, a short cut between a strip mall and a street of shops. The pair of them are gathering pears. The girl is gathering windfalls, while the man takes care of the official harvest. The light and the wet day perfectly captured the ineffable quality of an autumn afternoon:

Statues in the Park, Vacaville

Gather ye orchard’s gleaning
As sun decants to starlight.
The summer leaves no greening
Untouched by autumn’s appetite.
Soft, the season turns, governed by winter’s oversight.

I like that, but still find five-line poems a struggle (if I actually follow the rules for syllables, which I patently did NOT in the final line). Five lines are just not enough time for wordy-old-me to invest a poem with emotion – which is why I deeply respect people who can really make tanka really work. (I keep trying, though.)

I gave up on the quintet form and just went with rhymed couplets — and a statue that stopped traffic for me. Ever been to Treasure Island?

Treasure Island 36Treasure Island 34Treasure Island 30

Statues in the Park: Bliss

Like no one’s watching, dance, they said
Away your fears, take joy instead!
Such glib advice! So hard to take.
(Perfectionists can’t risk mistakes.)

Who wouldn’t choose a bird to be –
All blithe-winged swooping, flying free –
…But, what goes UP must come to grief.
DOWN follows up. Joy’s flight is brief.

Light, soaring thistledown I’d fly
Wind’s fickle dance exemplify,
But plodding, scaredy-self the rope
That leashes whimsy’s gyroscope.

Is fearing, living? NO, say I
If convention we satisfy
And let “tradition” turn our feet!
Take back your drum! Dance to your beat.

They’re watching, but dance anyway
Sing loud. Love hard, life’s cabaret
Plays rarely past four score and five –
You have RIGHT NOW to be alive.

This is “Bliss Dance,” by Marco Cochrane, on the great lawn at Treasure Island. She is forty feet tall, and she literally, the first time we saw her, caused us to hit the brakes and gawk. She. Is. Huge.

Some art you can encounter once and simply remember it. Bliss, I could visit repeatedly. She’s just…there larger than life, and …brings to mind the William Carlos Williams poem, “The Kermess,” another poem I memorized in college. I love the joyous defiance of Breughel’s-great-picture-The Kermess; the poem’s thick shanks and big butts and bellies all swinging round made me so happy. Bliss’ body is traditionally symmetrical, but her nudity puts her on the same level – she’s unashamed and getting her slightly awkward, spinning groove on. She’s probably going to trip over her own feet, in a minute. Do you think she cares?

Treasure Island 31

She does not.


The poetry sisters are in the house! Some of Laura’s statues are just waiting for you to leave. Sara’s diving into the complicated uses of Lincoln’s memorial. Tricia’s managing to write surrounded by family. Kelly’s playing with the idea of release, while Liz is traveling. And don’t forget to wave hello to Andi, who is cheering us on from the bench this week.

There’s more Poetry Friday this lovely early August day! Our hostess kicking off the month in style is Donna@Mainely Write. Put on your dancing shoes, dearhearts, and shimmy through your weekend. They’re all watching. Who cares?

{poetry friday: macaroni}

New Lanark T 24

It always amuses me that whenever my Scottish friends speak of pies, they invariably mean… that which I do not mean at all. Say “pie” and they’ll say chicken-and-leek. Eel. Steak-and-kidney. Mince. Mutton, or something else in Scotch pie. Sweet pies are… um, puddings? So, it gets to be a little confusing.

In view of the fact that today is apparently National Mac & Cheese Day I will raise a …mug to Macaroni Pie. It’s better with fresh peas than baked beans from a tin, to be sure, but it’s one of those ubiquitous quick meal I had when out and about, visiting castles and historical places. I’ve never tried to make one – I truly can’t see the point of adding pastry to pasta when there are perfectly good pumpkins and peaches just sitting around – but macaroni pie was good fuel for a long day of walking in cold climes, so here’s to it.

Dodgy Dinners

When cravings for a piece of pie
Meet diet’s parsimony,
Forget the peach – your fork apply
To tasty macaroni!

A hand-pie makes a lot of sense:
Food without ceremony –
(And, in a pinch, it’s self-defense
And lessens acrimony).

Take my advice and make this meal
With peas and pepperoni,
Complete with pastry’s flaked appeal
A pie of macaroni.

This is a DREADFUL POEM of the worst sort of drivel and I’m well aware of that, but I’m also packing to move, so it is what it is. ☺ The rest of the ACTUAL poetry-ites are over at Tabatha’s blog today.

{pf: p7 in the style of “she walks in beauty”}

It’s the first Friday of the month, and it’s time for a bit of Byron!

For preference, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” will always be my favorite of the poetic stylings of Mr. “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but “She Walks in Beauty” is gorgeous, too; a lovely example of the poetry of the Romantic era, and a personification of the Beauty that is Womanhood and all of that you learn in Sophomore English. As all Romantic poems do, it deals heavily in hyperbole and is a tiny bit on the ridiculous side, because I don’t know any women in whom all the best of anything meet anywhere, but your mileage may vary. When tasked to write in the style of Byron, I tried to gently capture that feel, going for the over-the-top flowery language and deathless symbolism while still writing something coherent (this may not have worked, but…). Instead of Beauty/Womanhood, I explored truth, via the story of Diogenes and Ma’at.

Calochortus amabilis 2.jpg
By Eric in SFOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Diogenes’s Daughters

Mere Beauty waits to take its bow
Beneath Cardinal Virtue’s gaze,
Seven, the Sisters make their vow
To Veritas, its arts to raise –
And to its Muse – her craft allow
To bright illuminate their days.

Their clear gaze focused on the Truth
Seven set forth their Lamps to raise.
These, undeterred by age or youth
Eschewing private gain or praise,
Sought but to find, by means more couth
Knowledge to set the world ablaze.

Astronomers’ celestial quest
Can no more match this thirst divine
‘Sapere aude!’ Know, and wrest,
From clamor’s call, an anodyne;
Against a world in sore distress –
One honest heart that’s genuine.

In college, there was a yearly competition to find these glorious early Spring flowers, called calochortus amibillis, commonly named Diogenes Lanterns. In the story, Diogenes walked about with a lit lamp because he was in search of one honest man. We never know if he found him, but he should have looked among the women, maybe…? Ma’at is old Egypt’s goddess of truth from which the personification of Justice as a woman holding a scale gets its basis. Though cuneiform tablets and old drawings do not depict her with a scale, her job was to weigh hearts and souls against the ostrich feather she wore in her hair. Only those souls lighter than her feather could go on to the afterlife.

Ma’at

She does her duty – what is right
In desert storms when high winds rise
When taloned carrion birds take flight
– and venturing out would be unwise.
When her gaze finds all clear and bright,
She still permits no compromise.

Though deeds obscure, though lies oppress
The Scales she scries do not displace
A feather’s weight of faithfulness –
True hearts will show their truest face.
No matter if our hearts transgress,
An honest scale’s our saving grace.

She walks ascendant, even now
Though clouds of lies disorient
Her staff in hand, her neck unbowed
Her feather weighs the soul’s intent.
So let it be: let us allow
This lightness, Love to represent.

Sapere aude is Latin for “dare to know.” Humanity has searched for and championed from antiquity various versions of The Truth. Do we dare to know? From myths and gods onward, the search continues…

Here’s Kelly, who started us off, telling us what that cousin really thinks. And Laura’s, which takes a decidedly glittery angle on things. In Sara’s, equine hoofbeats pound in iambic pentameter. Like most of us, Tricia found this challenge both fun and impossible to do while trying to do other things, and Liz skidded in at the finish line – with her usual grace. Andi continues to walk in beauty this month, and will catch us later. For more poetry, check out the Beyond Literacy Link blog.


BONUS ♦ BONUS ♦ BONUS ♦ ~ Next week, July 14th, is National Mac-and-Cheese Day. You know Poetry Friday Must Celebrate, right? Next week’s round-up is at Tabatha Yeats’ blog The Opposite of Indifference. Be there with cheese on – be it Gruyere or vegan cheddar.

{poetry friday: the p7 shovel gold}

When they invented the sestina, indeed, the resultant yowling by Aquitanian poets throughout Europe was no doubt noteworthy… but that was before they invented the Golden Shovel…


The Golden Shovel’s title enlarges the idea of tribute, of “shoveling” the golden bits of another poem for reuse. First, a poet takes an admired line, then, keeping the words in order, uses the words from this line as line endings in a new poem of their own creation. Finally, the poem reveals their new creation, and credits the old.

We chose the hardest poem to work with, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty.” You remember the tongue-twister that you utterly failed to memorize in the seventh grade for speech class?

Yeah, that one. (What? Was it only me?):

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
        And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
        With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

Once I got over the shrieking horror of How am I supposed to work with compounds like ‘chestnut-falls’??? Is that one word, or two???, I began to figure out what this poem was – and what it was not. Foremost, it was not a rewrite of Hopkins’ original. In Terrence Hayes’ original poem, “Golden Shovel,” based on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” (1959) he took her words and whipped them into a whole new dish. The poignancy and bravado of a nameless black boy cresting the hill of adulthood is certainly there, but he’s not leaning heavily on the bravado of school-skipping adolescents hanging out at a pool hall. Once I stopped trying to rewrite “Pied Beauty,” my process cleaned up a whole lot… though I was still tempted by it. As you can see, I took for use the first line of Hopkins’ exultant poem:

Photos via Wikipedia

lilium fatale

there blooms the lady, gaudy in her glory
as a trumpet blast. Bright freckles massed might be
music, presaging summer’s solo. Oh, to
grace a garden, now that spring is here. Does God
dream in stargazers? Let no beauty be for
gotten: strumpet striped, dewy, sunlight dappled;
dizzy, drenched, these senses! delight in all things.

   ~ after Gerard Manley Hopkins

Moving past my usual squeamishness about blank verse, with its resultant no-rules/no-brakes feeling, I wondered, next, if it was possible to add a little lightness to these poems. Oddly for a tribute form, most I’ve seen are quite serious in content. While the rules in a Golden Shovel freed me from the tyranny of end-line rhyme, I found that thematically, with this poem specifically, thematic variance was nearly impossible. (I’ll be interested in seeing how my other Sisters managed this — I could not.) I’m just not sure how else I could have used these particular lines, although the second half of the poem might have .

star talk

“we’re made of star-stuff.” this, a dazzling sendup of us all;
humanity made luminosity. great, glowy things
reactive (con)fusions, ticking like a Geiger counter,
our radiance cosmic, scintillating & original
yes, we’re stars… but, mostly quarks: odd parts in a box marked ‘spare;’
we broke the mold. we’re distinct, authentic, genuine… strange.

   ~ with genuine affection for the brilliantly strange Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

My one regret is running out of time to try for the last two lines (despite what Laura was told, the last two words constitute no challenge at all, thank you) – but maybe someday!


With such a busy month, we had zero time for collaboration, so like me, I know you’re dying to see what Sara (who is in NM with her kids just now, so may post later next week), Tricia, Laura, Kelly, & Liz are shoveling up this week between commencement, travel, and other ceremonies. Andi’s not with us this month, but we know she is reading and being filled. She will be back. More Poetry Friday goodness to dig your teeth into is found at Buffy’s Blog.

{#npm’17: vicious flowers}

I admit to a tiny bit of fear of mantises. The 2400 species which make up Mantodea all have raptorial forelegs, stereo vision, and massive jaws that make them a fearsome predator for insects (as well as small lizards and frogs, in some areas). I was pinched rather firmly by a mantis one as a child, so seeing them as an adult still gives me a bit of a turn – although my mother, God bless her, still loves to catch them in a jar and find a bunch of children to tell about them. (Once a teacher, always a teacher…) I think the way they stalk things is worrying, and the fact that they pounce – and have stabby claws on their legs — is both fearsome and wonderful. Add to that their sexual cannibalism, and ((O_o))… no. (And we kids are taught that they pray! Hah. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has another take on that, which cracks me up.)

More unnerving than other mantises are the so-called flower mantises. Biologists call what flower mantises do “aggressive mimicry.” It’s when a predatory insect or animal uses something benign as a lure — or when what you think is a gorgeous orchid rips the head off of another flower its just mated, and eats it.

Do you see it? It’s not even trying to not look floral. At all.

Wikipedia Commons photo by Philipp Psurek

The poem below is attributed to Ogden Nash, though I have found no provenance for that – but it’s the sort of doggerel he would write about bugs. Note that if indeed Nash wrote this, he was mistaken, for it is the grasshopper, not the mantis, who is of the phylum Orthoptera… the mantis is Arthropoda. Yes, and now you know.

Praying Mantis

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
Glimpse the grin, green metal mug
that masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, “Lord deliver us!”

Indeed!

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Teaching Authors.

{#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: time travel again}

My sister and I are on a nail odyssey, as in, we’re attempting to not bite them for an extended period of time. She got nail tips done in a shop to prevent this biting. It lasted for… a week. Mine lasted somewhat longer. Today, she’s on my mind, so I am re-posting poems about her from a couple of years ago. Enjoy.


Yesterday, my mother sent me this picture from her phone.

nsmail-39

These are my sister’s old braces – molded specifically for her infant-toddler-child-girl-woman legs and feet, so we can’t pass them on, only recycle them. Mom couldn’t bear to do it when she was small, so they’ve been in the attic for the past decade, a silent testament. Like the pencil marks on my friend Bean’s kitchen doorway which track the progress of her daughters, now both in their late twenties/early thirties, these are a witness to how much the years have changed the Bug. This is a record of the surgeries to correct the tiny bones, of the structuring forced on her dimpled limbs to enable her feet to lie flat, her ankles to support her weight, her back to stretch out, her body to stand tall. At nineteen and fairly petite, there aren’t dimpled elbows and knees left, and there probably won’t be too much more lengthening of those femurs, but stature from other directions – cognitively, of course, because every teen needs cunning and guile – wisdom – confidence. But what records do we keep of those? How do we know when we’ve become what we’re meant to be?

“running” your own life takes practice

stand up for yourself
don’t let them walk over you
just put your foot down

we’ve “stumbled onto” a solution

you don’t stand a chance
’til you can stand on your own
so take the first step

roll on you crazy diamond

“I’m fun-sized, not short,”
she takes this life in her stride
while finding her feet

Yep, that’s my girl.

{#npm’17: with apologies to the doggerel patrol}

rx for writer’s block

the lowered sky scowls, ushers in
another springtime squall.
restless, the wind’s spin, once again
heralds cold raindrop’s fall.
in layered wool, enwrapped in fleece
and sipping piping tea
the writer sighs at spring’s caprice —
and, writing, finds the way to peace.

should others, plying art as trade
find dull days leave their souls in pique
recall that sun, too, can invade
with sick ennui the Muse pervade —
perhaps, what’s best is this technique:
Keep Butt-In-Chair, five days a week.

{#npm’17: a tender shoot}

Hayford Mills 026

My play-cousin, Mary Lee, has been posting all about Pete Seeger’s lyricist, Malvina Reynolds, this past month, and Reynolds’ song about failing fell in a good spot for me. But I didn’t want to admit to Mary Lee that I’d never heard, um, of Malvina Reynolds, and I couldn’t identify more than one Pete Seeger song if paid. (*cough* I know. Sorry. “This Land Is Your Land?” that’s all I’ve got.) Protest songs weren’t necessarily my era, and our household was all about the religious music, except for illicit Manilow and the odd easy-listening in the car on the way to the grocery store. (My mother, the maverick.)

So, I thought Mary Lee’s favorite Seeger lyrics was a good thing to post today, for my Christian peeps, and for my Jewish, Muslim, and Generally Not Into It peeps as well. It spins well off of Tupac’s “The Rose that Grew From Concrete:

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Water drills stone. Roots shift concrete. Grass covers all. Whether your rose or grass is HaShem, Jesus, the Prophet, or sheer granite determination to get through these next few days, months, and weeks, may your sneaky, rooted self find all the cracks, and may your push never falter, that the concrete which stifles us might buckle, and a necessary growth take place.

God Bless the Grass

God bless the grass that grows through the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that breaks through cement,
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent,
But after a while it lifts up it’s head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead.
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that’s gentle and low
Its roots they are deep and it’s will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.

~ Malvina Reynolds

Hayford Mills 330

Pax.