{p7: if it walks like a snake… something’s wrong}

Happy sneaky pre-autumn!

It’s been a wildly busy month thus far — I feel like a got a few things done, namely putting up some peach butter and drying a lot of peaches and freezing some other peaches… and our chorus resumed this week, so I am already hip-deep in new music. It’s all in Spanish, so I’m doubly glad I kept up with my Spanish studies this summer, and I’m understanding at least 80% of what I’m reading! This is super exciting! (Never fear I’m smug; my pronunciation probably sounds like I’m speaking intoxicated Welsh.)

The only snake in the garden is… well, there’s not one, unfortunately, that’s the problem. I actually ADORE snakes, even the ones that surprise me in the yard (I KNOW. I’ve not yet met a poisonous one in the yard, but even then, we’ll probably just respectfully leave each other alone). Laura’s challenge this month was for us to use a snake metaphor we haven’t used before, in a poem maxing out at eight lines.

This was DAUNTING. I’ve used every “narrow fellow in the grass” metaphor that I could think of before. I once wrote a sonnet to my snake. I didn’t know that I could come up with something new.

We didn’t share our process as a group, so this month, every single Poetry Peeps poem is a happy surprise to me, too. Kel’s all snaked-out and will join us again later, but Laura started us off sweetly, and then Andi surprised herself, Sara brought the weather, Rebecca saw snakes everywhere, Tricia got technical, and Liz slid in before the finish line.

Incidentally, Poetry Friday is hosted by Sylvia and Janet at Poetry for Children right here, and did you see the faculty for the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), biennial conference???? Our very own Princess Liz will take part, as well as some other really special poets, including Naomi Shihab Nye, Jacqueline Woodson and Traci Sorrell!!! WOW.


When I’m stumped for poem topics, I think about what’s new with me. As I’ve mentioned, we moved this summer and we’re around the corner from a high school, a block away from an elementary school, and a block and a half away from a junior high. It’s nice to go on my walk while others are trudging to zero period, secure in the knowledge that I will never, ever, ever face zero period again… *Ahem.* As I was saying, living so school-adjacent is entirely new, and so I thought of what I could do with that… and somehow add snakes.

BEGINNING

A shrewdness of discerning tweens
A scamper of their anxious folks
A freshness of “first day!” school scenes
A catch-up made of snark and jokes

A schedule labyrinthine as snakes
Stumbling cross-campus, end to end
A tiredness heavy as lead —
Ends all first days. Thank God for bed.

It was a minimum day, but even so, you could see the difference between kids walking to school, and walking home. They were BEAT. I’m sure the teachers were, too – I remember that feeling, and salute you all who felt it a couple of weeks ago.

Fremont 288

ENDING

From Mission Peak the sun sinks low
Final salute to end of day.
Fog, coiled cool like nestled snakes
Encircles foothills and the Bay.

Outstretched, a shadow’s arms yawn wide
Offers of rest, and work to cease.
Breeze-ruffled leaves with night scents sigh
As twilight’s blueing light breathes peace.

I can feel the season changing – the overcast morning and the cooling evening. Some of you can feel other nastier things, mainly high winds and oppressive rain. Be well, East Coast friends. A peaceful weekend with the grace of rest to you all.

{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

{thanksfully: 26}

I’ve been digging in with my Dutch studies since we returned from the Netherlands this past summer. It astounds me (READ: worries me; there WILL be a wall at some point, and I will hit it hard) how easily it comes. One thing I hadn’t expected is how studying language – any new language – improves the skill I have in other non-native languages. My French and Spanish have suddenly improved, because I have to think about neuter and feminine and masculine verbs. Even my German pronunciation – for sung German, anyway – has improved, all thanks to stepping outside of the English box. I’m so grateful for the world of words and my (brief) facility with it.

mapping

our language shapes us
delineating nations
man-made boundaries
on paper, inches apart
our worlds come together, inked

{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

{emily’s sabbath, reprise}

Waterloopbos 1

no sermon, no sexton, birdsong from every direction
the quail’s quiet sageness is truth for the ages, and never is service too long.

It is rare-to-never that I think of a poem I’ve written in conjunction with a Moment I am having, but I did in this woods! It was sublime… to the point where I am studying the Dutch language and planning to emigrate. It was an AMAZING trip. Good to be home, though, and starting work on this novel again. Fingers crossed to finish by November!

{remember when we thought we’d be throwing down a Tubman $20?}

And remember when this annoying man decided that wasn’t necessary? *sigh* I’m going to repub this blog post from 2016 because I LOVE Harriet Tubman, and our chamber group is singing the song Harriet Tubman for our concert this month, and we should remind ourselves of who she was, so we remember who we could be.


“Come with me if you want to live!”

harriet_tubman

Doesn’t that seem like what that cover says? The gun, the hand reaching back. The utter seriousness on her face. It’s the quintessential Terminator-style scene — a savior arrives, guns blazing, demanding exact obedience in return for leading the underdog to safety, and then melting away into the sunset. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat; it’s a story we’re practically demanded to love.

People who have looked at the paper money of other countries realize that American paper money loses points in the category of “interesting.” Not only does it hardly have any color but green, there are absolutely zero women on it of any shade. And now to discover that our first paper money woman (making sure to give Sacagawea her due) is to be African American, too? Wow. (Jury’s still out on how ridiculous it is that it won’t be for another twenty years, but xkcd said it best: C’mon, Treasury Dept.; this is a minor problem you could solve. Really.)

Ann Petry cover twenty

(Though I searched, I can’t give credit to the artist who put these two mediums together, but full props to them, and please let me know if you find them.) I was commenting that if the cover to the 2007 Ann Petry Harper Trophy book was made part of the design for our cash, we’d all hoard twenties, like the Sacagawea dollar coins got snapped up and mostly reside out of circulation. Tobias Bucknell tweeted back that he’d spend nothing but twenties. Which made me laugh. $.50 library fine? No, let me drop you a Tubman on that. No, no, a whole jar of change is fine. It’s fine…

Of course, not everyone is a fan of Harriet Tubman stepping out of history into contemporary life. People have been screeching that she was a METHODIST! (Oh, dear Lord, no! Not a religious person! We’re post-religious!), and that, additionally, she carried a pistol AND a sword. (ON HER PERSON! Whaaaaaaaat?)

Displayed at Florida A&M on loan from 5th generation of her family

Oddly, you’d think fans of history would know that there’s a lot of tradition surrounding religion in America; especially back in 1860, after all, as the country had only recently descended from Puritans who left England for what? Religious reasons, and five points to you. Ms. Tubman’s owners had been Methodists, and it was what she knew. Surely we cannot fault her for that. Also: many abolitionists before or during the Civil War were not necessarily pacifists (John Brown or Nat Turner, anyone?) and though she was a humanitarian, Harriet Tubman was also the soldier who was famously quoted as telling slaves who thought after their initial escape that they’d made a mistake and should turn back, “You’ll live free or die a slave.” The gun she carried at times (she was drawn carrying a sharpshooter rifle on posters by irate slaveowners demanding her return) certainly gave that statement some weight. While I doubt she was unsympathetic to their fear, she couldn’t allow anyone to give away the position of the rest of those who were going to keep running. She carried a gun not just to avoid capture herself – she had a $40k price on her own head (well, Araminta Ross did, which was her name as a slave; she changed it to Harriet Tubman herself), which was a megabillions fortune in those days – but to make sure her little train on the underground railroad didn’t leave the tracks or lose a passenger. 1,000+ slaves and she never blew her cover, never lost an escapee. That is nothing short of miraculous, you know. A short, middle-aged woman (she was 38-44 during the Civil War years) who couldn’t read or write and who’d had a severe head injury during slavery, and she managed all of that.

Her heroism merely showed
A dame adept and of strong will
(Rethought her planning on the fly,
Refused to cower or stand still.)
Intuiting through trap and maze,
Eluding landmines laid for leagues
Tenacious, and her cunning ways

Transfixed her charges through fatigue.
Undaunted ’til their fear broke through –
By balking some made to return – “If
Manumission’s not for you?
A bullet will ease your concerns.”
Nursed and cooked, too; soldiered, spied: “hero” the word, exemplified.

So, she was many things: nurse, cook, soldier, spy — and veteran who drew a pension after the Civil War. Many, many people don’t know that. She wasn’t just some nice lady with a lamp showing freed slaves the way from shackles. She also demoralized the Confederates, blew up their mines on the Cobahee River, served as a raid commander under Colonel James Montgomery, in concert with the African-American 2nd South Carolina regiment — and she carried on as if her color and gender were beside the point. Many people know a bit more about this story from Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.” It’s a neat little reenactment, but if you’ve not seen it, be warned: drunk narrative with swearing:

Despite the wandering, this is quite accurate, which means this lady knows her history stone cold sober. So should should we all.

{a very minor royalty}

So, there was a skunk on my walk this morning.

Other than the skunk that lived by the canal behind my Martinez apartment (where the guy downstairs yelled, “Bad skunk!” every time it a.] ate his outdoor cat’s food, and b.] sprayed his cat), whose presence I never saw but only smelled, I’ve not interacted with skunks. Most people don’t, at least, not pleasantly. They’re small, slow, and nocturnal, and wisely avoid humans like the plague we are.

There was, of course, Warner Brothers’ Pepé Le Pew, the skunk of my childhood whom I hated with all my soul. A serial assaulter, his insinuating pseudo-Frenchness populated my nightmares. (HOW someone thought an animal who wouldn’t take no for an answer and violated random black cats was a good comedy starter for children, I do not know.) There was also my friend Dan’s skunk, and “Kitty” as he called her, stomped her slender feet every time I came over. Foot stomping, incidentally, is a prelude to aerosol warfare, and you can trust that I hustled out of any room that skunk was in while she probably snickered. Knowing who provided her canned cat food, Kitty never sprayed; hand-raised and thoroughly spoiled, she was a professional saber-rattler, a little stripey punk who lived to pester her owners for nine, fat and cranky years.

I hustled out for a walk in the early hours of this latest “pineapple express” which meant that, as the mist suddenly thickened into fat drops, I was hustling along at nearly a run. Skidding to a stop after meeting an ambling form low to the ground was… a lot of windmilling arms and panicking. I wasn’t sure if I should go forward or back, and waited to see if the little queen of the road was going to cede half of it to me without argument. She wasn’t too vexed until Himself shone his flashlight on her.

NB: Should you ever meet a skunk in the wild, don’t do that. Queen Stink Was Not Amused. She got TETCHY. Her half-raised tail and a head-down position indicated mounting aggression, and I froze, whispering, “Would you stop blinding her? Do you want to try out that Mythbuster’s peroxide and baking soda recipe before work?!” As soon as Tech Boy’s flashlight went off, her tail went down, and she went back to digging out whatever grubby salamander she was after, as if she’d never even seen us. We waited in frozen fear, and… she utterly ignored us.

We had to walk toward her to pass her, so as she walked waddled toward us, we walked toward her… and, like duelists who are pacing off to turn and fire, we just… kept… walking, sneaking glances over our shoulders.

Queen Stink didn’t bother looking back.