{this afternoon needs a poem}

“The Swimming Lesson”

by Mary Oliver

Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.

Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering the medieval maxim,
Had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,

Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace, –
How to survive in any place.


This poem is especially poignant, seeing as my father, when I was five, threw me into a swimming pool with apparently the honest belief that it would teach me how to swim. I learned terror. I learned the feel of water in my lungs. I learned the relief of rescue, from a kindly woman who lifted me as high as she could reach.

I did not learn to swim that day.

{“to the young, who want to die”}

Sit down. Inhale. Exhale.
The gun will wait. The lake will wait.
The tall gall in the small seductive vial
will wait will wait:
will wait a week: will wait through April.
You do not have to die this certain day.
Death will abide, will pamper your postponement.
I assure you death will wait. Death has
a lot of time. Death can
attend to you tomorrow. Or next week. Death is
just down the street; is most obliging neighbor;
can meet you any moment.

You need not die today.
Stay here–through pout or pain or peskyness.
Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green’s your color. You are Spring.

Greenock 38

– Gwendolyn Brooks

{pf: p7 marches in with masks}

On the four weeks and five days before the Equinox, my plum tree gave to me… a surprising number of blooms, which I tried vainly to tell it to hang onto until temps got above the thirties at night and the wind slowed from 30 mph gusts.

It did not listen.

This honestly should be no surprise; the starlings did not listen when I explained to them last year that a nest over the front door was not really the most advantageous spot, the little cat from the house behind us does not listen when I beg him or her not to sleep on top of the plant in the walkway — the ladybug horde that has moved in does not listen when I gently try to entice them with the advantages of the great outdoors. I don’t know why I expected anything different from my tree. Spring comes whether it is pouring or dry, whether I think it is way early or no, whether it is convenient to the sinuses or not (it is NOT. Ever). And so, it is coming, a dive-bombing bird of prey, screaming across the sky, with talons extended, and with no brakes. Um, welcome Spring.

For reasons made clear in the previous paragraph (just call me Dolly Dramatica), this month’s poetry challenge was a good match for my particular brain. Mask poems are poems in which the reader slips into the soul of an inanimate object or an animal, and looks out through its eyes, answering questions of what it sees, what it thinks, or how it reacts to what’s going on around it – or with the poet. What does a snowflake want to say about itself, before it’s gone? A pair of gloves, a cell phone, a turtle? The poet takes the opportunity to embody another – an excellent excuse to pretend – and to consider a question in a voice that isn’t quite one’s own.

Because Laura initiated our challenge this month, I set myself the additional challenge of writing a poem that might suit a child. Laura is very good at consistently using our challenges to write poems for children and teachers, who are her readers, so however successfully/unsuccessfully, I’ve tried to take an animal-and-upbeat page from her book today. I’d say it was unsuccessfully, but hey – I was mindful not to be depressive, at least! I call that PROGRESS.

You might wonder if you’ve ever met a black phoebe. They’re a variant of flycatcher, and they’re they hardest darned things to photograph, ever. They’re tiny, smaller than a sparrow – more finch-sized, really, and ALWAYS moving, flicking their tail, abruptly leaping up or diving, and zipping all over, deeply unconcerned with what you’d like them to do – much like all of my other backyard neighbors.

Peachtree 244

a plum tree sings of phoebe

Black phoebe sits and sings near me
Concerned with only my gnat pests
He could care less that I’m a tree
With Damson blossom buds as guests.
Just bugs for him. His whistled call
Says mostly that it’s “time to eat!”
My branches reach for Sunlight’s fall.
(My leaves are waiting ’til there’s heat.)

My human comes to fuss at me
And gently touch a blossom guest.
She worries there’s no guarantee
That frost won’t make my branches stressed.
But phoebe flits, and doesn’t know
If flies tomorrow he will find –
“But look,” he tweets, “the lily grows!”
(Birds worry less than people-kind.)

Black phoebe, dining on the fly
Nabs lacewing here, a moth elsewhere –
Aerial antics amplify
The birdkind version of a prayer
To Spring. To flight, to frigid wind
As blossoms shimmy in the breeze –
Sing, even if the world should end
Use beauty’s balm your mind to ease.


There are more masks hiding and revealing all sorts of things amongst the poetry sibs this month. Laura’s enlightening us, while Sara’s sharing treasures. Liz is in the kitchen, while Rebecca is using windows as eyes. Tricia was gluing the last bits of her mask together as she also leapt a tall building in a single bound, while Kelly and Andi have hung up their masks for today, so we’ll see them next time.

Poetry Friday is graciously hosted today @TeacherDance. Thank you, Linda B!

Ah, friends, I’ve heard it in the chillest land (which is where it feels like most of us live just now) -/ And on the strangest Sea (also what we live in now on the West Coast, despite this bright blue picture on a briefly dry afternoon)-/ Yet – never – in Extremity,/ It asked a crumb – of me.

Miss Emily reminds us that no matter where we are, we must listen for it… Singing, I mean. Get out and listen to things with feathers this weekend. And if you can’t hear the hope, sing it aloud for someone else. Tough times for many of us just now, but holding each other up, we’re going to make it. Keep singing.

Peachtree 243

{this day needs a poem}

It Has Come to My Attention

It has come to my attention
that people like me
are not generally welcome in fairy tales.

It’s the talking birds that do it.
The minute a sparrow shows up to pipe a direful warning
it’s all over
down at the first hurdle
done

The body in the fifty-fathom well
will have to wait
the old woman turned into a hare
the murdered mother in the juniper tree
as I whip out my Sibley guide and look for the entry
with the fieldmark labeled capable of human speech.

For this crime
I have been accused of a failure of wonder
of having chained up my inner child and sent her
to work in the salt mines.

But the truth
(if you really want to know)
is that I have read too many fairy tales
and lives a bit too long
to be surprised by anything that happens in
the cottages of lonely woodcutters.

I can even venture a guess
to why the bear speaks with the voice of a maiden
(my heart goes out to her)
and why, when the animal has saved your life
you will be required to make a harp out of its bones.

These are old familiar mysteries
as love is an old familiar mystery
the dwarf’s name
the contents of the enchanted walnut
the thing which stands behind the mill.
Fairy tales are human things
which we have chewed over
since before we could eat solid food.

But a bird!
A bird that talks!
This is outside my experience
this un-parrot-like fluency.
I have so many questions –
Where did you learn?
and How do you make the P’s and B’s and M’s with that stiff beak?

and most important,
Are there more like you out there?

– forward from Toad Words And Other Stories by T. Kingfisher

{pf: on her gifts}

Cheers again for Mary Oliver, whose memory will always bless, and whose life was something to celebrate, and whose death is encouraging a whole bunch of new people in my Twitter timeline to read less frequently quoted examples of her poetry.


Something profoundly lovely is the intimate and personal connection that poet Mary Oliver made with the world. I was talking to a friend, who met the poet in person, and mentioned the respectful and gentle manner in which she listened as my friend related how a poem of Mary Oliver’s reminded her of a loved one who had died. Mary Oliver probably heard that sort of thing a great many times, but her active listening, which is reflected in her work, somehow helped to both share and diffuse the sting of grief.

Her poetry helps me listen – to myself, and to the world. Next to my journal and my Bible, beside The Chair Of Comfy Awesomeness is a thick collection of Oliver poems. And, on those frequent days when the heart is bowed or silent, and the exigencies of rigorous – or any – religious thought escape me, I read a handful of poems, and walk through wilds where the Divine is less inexplicable, and the simplicity gathers a focus which is clear-eyed and joyful, and I can once again draw breath, and consider the lilies – and then, the hummingbirds. This, too, is a gift.

WHISTLING SWANS

Do you bow your head when you pray or do you look

up into that blue space?
Take your choice, prayer fly from all directions.
And don’t worry about what language you use,
God no doubt understands them all.
Even when the swans are flying north and making
such a ruckus of noise, God is surely listening,

and understanding.
Rumi said, There is no proof of the soul.
But isn’t the return of spring and how it
springs up in our hearts a pretty good hint?
Yes, I know God’s silence never breaks, but is

that really a problem?
there are thousands of voices, after all.
And furthermore, don’t you imagine (I just suggest it)
that the swans know about as much as we do about

the whole business?
So listen to them and watch them, singing as they fly.
Take from it what you can.

Martinez 62

THE GIFT

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful.
That the gift has been given.


~ both poems from FELICITY, by Mary Oliver ©2017, Penguin Books

Poetry Friday is hosted at Miss Rumphius’ house today, where there are doubtless numerous other people celebrating the gift that is the life and work of Mary Oliver. Whether you are snowed in, or leapfrogging puddles in this boundless wintry weather, may your weekend be touched by a breath of the Divine, and a touch of the untamed world which reminds you that you do, in fact, have only this one wild and precious life.

Pax.

{thanksfully: 12}

Vacaville 37

This past Veteran’s Day, remembering looked different to everyone. To some, it seemed a day to beat the drum for how we have made a “great” America. For others, it was the reminder of the horrors of war. For me, it was remembering our oldest family members, and realizing anew that there were some stories they never told.

veteran’s day

patriotism seems
straightforward: a waving flag,
a love of homeland,
a readiness for service,
gratitude for sacrifice.

patriots vary –
ancestors slaves or slaughtered,
immigrants, fleeing,
clinging to broken pieces
gathering shards to make Home.

despite its defects
this is my Home, my country
flawed, like that uncle
at Thanksgiving who argues;
loved, like the kid’s table’s smiles.

Chōka – the long version of the tanka – consist of 5-7 on phrases repeated at least twice, and conclude with a 5-7-7 ending. I didn’t quite do that, and my envoi is completely a mess, but…meh, the exercise is to write gratitude poems, and I’m not going to worry about it.


{a modest shrine to meaning}

“So?”

by Leonard Nathan

So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
or even a well-known singer
of popular songs and will never read Greek
or speak French fluently,
will never see something no one else
has seen before through a lens
or with the naked eye.

You’ve been given just the one life
in this world that matters
and upon which every other life
somehow depends as long as you live,
and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
choice, and pain with which to raise
a modest shrine to meaning.

Iona 84

{rocks. paper. scissors.}

I have been playing with a specfic story for a long time with this title, and when I found this poem, it made me smile.

Song of the Powers

Mine, said the stone,
mine is the hour.
I crush the scissors,
such is my power.
Stronger than wishes,
my power, alone.

Mine, said the paper,
mine are the words
that smother the stone
with imagined birds,
reams of them, flown
from the mind of the shaper.

Mine, said the scissors,
mine all the knives
gashing through paper’s
ethereal lives;
nothing’s so proper
as tattering wishes.

Read the rest of this poem by David Mason at Poetry Out Loud.

{p7 on pf: a patchwork of a cento}

“I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”

Greetings and salutations: It’s Poetry Friday, and is anyone else mildly bewildered that it’s September? While no one can say this summer has gone by quickly – no one who was has been wilting in the heat or sucking down smoke – that we’re officially motoring towards Autumn is a bit surprising… ah, well, on with the dance.

How I did it: While found poetry is typically difficult for me, this month’s cento challenge was a doozy. After TEN YEARS (this past April) of making poetry together with these ladies, I would not have wasted time whining about how difficult this was, except if we’re too quiet, it makes Sara leery, so WOW, THIS WAS HARD, UGH, GOSH, CENTOS, ARGH. Better, Sara? Onward:

From the Latin word for “patchwork” a cento is a collage poem made up of lines from poems by other poets. For our poetic quilt, the Poetry Sisters chose a single stanza from “I See Chile In My Rearview Mirrow by New Delhi poet Agha Shahid Ali. From this poem, we then chose a single word from a selected stanza around which to build our collage.

Finding poems for centos can be challenging, but a quick shortcut is to put your chosen word into the search engine at Poets.org and proceed from there. Out of the plethora of interesting choices, I chose like, which was common enough to give me too many options for poems, so I limited myself to only five pages of results from Poets.org, and twenty-seven poems, which I whittled down to a mere seventeen. Happily, this choice also opened my poem up to myriad cultural and ethnic diversities as well, as we move from the past to the present, through myriad continents and genders and faiths.

Making Meaning: It’s challenging to make meaningful poetry out of patchwork, however – having to leave the words of the poems in the order in which they were within their individual works made this even more difficult. However, because I have still been reflecting on my recent foray into harpy-ism, I found myself with ample fodder for the whirling emotions in the lines which presented themselves. Reflecting on how I had felt in the moment just after an insult, I found a backing for the swirling patchwork, and I pinned my individual bits in various places and orders until they felt true.


ozone & petrichor (after lightning)

i.
I would like to describe the simplest of emotions

ii.
it was like this:
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck other times
like brooms of steel.
like sunlight, in fog
breaking like oil. the night
smelled like a dead frog.
a rose like a screw
drawn out of my breast like a rib.

I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment…
I have never been anything like pink
& lord knows, I have been called by what I look like.
Just like that, I’m a flung open door.
I run around like mad –
Like them, I wanted — only to die, moon-dark. Blessed,
unnoticed. now they look suspended, like heroes
a dream still clinging like light to the dark,
as the mist disappeared. like a curtain, open,
maybe. its flaws, like cracks
leaking in and out in all directions

iii.
mistress, eyes are nothing. like the sun
like a million dollar god with a two-cent
rim-shot, history, like a shadow, passes.


Closing Credits: And there’s even more cento-y goodness from the Sisterhood. Laura meets this month’s challenge through glass, Tricia found a truly envy-producing title, Sara, who set our challenge this month, sees all that is before us, while Liz breaks down breaking/brokenness. From their cushy chairs on the sidelines, Andi and Kelly meanwhile wave their pom-poms in our general direction, cheering us onward.

The true gift of a cento is the impetus to read widely – and wildly – a number of different types of poems one might not have otherwise attempted. To best appreciate the rich cloth from which each piece of patchwork is cut, you are invited to find a line you feel is especially intriguing, and read its antecedent poem.


This week’s Poetry Friday host is Beyond Literacy Link. Here’s to corralling the various whirling emotions that we might have and pinning them down into poetry. A cento style might not make it as easy to impose order onto your world as, say, a sonnet, but there is something to be said for using whatever feelings you have – however you feel – to make an orderly mind out of chaos.

” We use whatever strengths we have fought for, including anger, to help define and fashion a world where all our sisters can grow, where our children can love, where the power of touching & meeting another woman’s difference & wonder will eventually transcend the need for destruction.” Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), 124-133

Hat tip to Tech Boy who made my little table in ten minutes, when I would have had to work carefully, with a lot of scowling and muttering, for an hour or more.

{pf: the p7 & the sestina scourge}

Okay, so maybe “scourge” was dramatic, but this, y’all, has been… just about impossible.

Don’t get me wrong – every month, I adore the challenge of pitting myself against a poetic form, but the sestina and me… we’ve just never managed to do more than approach a strained détente and limp back to our respective corners to lick our wounds.

The form… just… repeats a word. Not a whole phrase, a word. That should be no harder than a pantoum or a villanelle, right? And yet, because of the length, perhaps, or the lack of rhyming, the tetrameter, or perhaps the specific order of the word repetitions… well, for whatever reason, it just seems much harder. The list of end words from which we were to choose six seemed fine at first – nothing wrong with face, down, mirror, ground, prism, prison, block, bend, wishes, beam, string, or blade, but eventually they were too concrete, too unwieldy, too… blah, blah, blah. Something.

Add to that, a creeping horror over the vast and terrible fires consuming my home state and my adopted country while suffering a soul-sucking loss of faith in humanity from the decay rate of our disintegrating Republic, bleak discouragement over a new diagnosis which might lead to surgery, generalized introvert anxiety over house guests, as well as the stomach ‘flu in the SUMMER, and you may well understand that my mental state was not all that it might have been for the construction of this poem.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

With locked jaw and gritted teeth. Scowling fiercely.

Won’t you celebrate with me? I’m still here. Still. Here. Dang. It.

As are my sisters Tricia, and Laura, and Sara, — as well as Kelly, Liz, and Andi, though those three are down at the boardwalk just now. Through packing and moves and trips and illnesses and too many meetings and family – still here. The battle this month is to those who finish, no matter when it happens. Slog on, ladies.

Here’s mud in the eye of all the things trying to ruin our day.

Battle Plan

A countermove for every move you block
A spark and it could all burn to the ground.
A breath could tip the house of cards you face;
They count you out, but you will not stay down.
Resolve a whetstone sharpening your blade
In battle’s heat you will not break, but bend.

How fine the line exists ‘tween ‘break’ and ‘bend’
What makes ‘assist’ turn into ‘stumbling block?’
There’s no help up from those who’ve fallen down
No stopping ‘floor’ from meeting with your face…
At least you walked before you met the ground –
So trial by fire creates a stronger blade.

It parries; thrusting, slashing with a blade
We nimble fighters long must strike and bend
Not moving meekly to the chopping block
We slash and stab until we’re falling down…
Bedtime. Tomorrow we must battle face
For now, retreat, regroup, and go to ground.

And this is where we find our common ground:
That all of us are wounded by this blade
That all, whip-scourged and raw, before it bend
And all, hauled fighting, to life’s butcher block.
And all of us death hunts, and will drag down
We’ll “go not gentle.” That, we could not face.

Still spitting venom in disaster’s face
We won’t just let it drag us underground.
A change of route avoids each sly roadblock,
We pray for open roads around the bend.
Audacity shines, hope-bright on the blade
The slingshot wielding shepherd boy brings down.

“He’s small – but won’t take trouble lying down.”
“She killed a giant?” – Shock on every face.
“But, when the gristmill grinds you up, you’re ground!
And, I heard you were bludgeoned by that blade!”
They didn’t see you learning how to bend…
Mustering moxie through each stumbling block.

A starter block for scything setbacks down:
First, stand your ground. Look trauma in the face
Then draw your blade and make the bastard bend.


Shout out to Josh Mandel’s useful and beautiful sestin-a-matic for help in remembering those tricky repeat patterns, especially in the envoi. Visit the site, click through, and choose a few words of your own, if you’re feeling poetically frisky. Sestinas really are a delightful challenge… when you’re not in a vile mood. Or, maybe they still are, but your sestina might end up being a teensy bit combative. Whatever, right?

Poetry Friday today is brought to you by the letter U and the number 8, and is hosted at my play cousin Mary Lee’s blog, A Year of Reading.