{the shrill, shrieking harpy within}

Kelvingrove Museum D 522

The harpy? It me.

Behold, I have won for myself the Hideous Hostess Award. I have delved deep within – or, rather, I have scratched a claw across a very thin veneer, not having to go very deep at all, and lo, I have discovered that within is housed the housefrau of unhingedness, the vixen of vexedness, and the harpy of hatefulness.

Five days of company might do this for you.

And, it’s been nearly seven days since it happened, and I’m just now blogging it, so you know the shame level is still pretty high.

My sisters are still laughing at me — fully belly laughs, not smirks and giggles. “Oh, you get mad like Mom does,” they tell me. “You ‘scream’ like Mom does,” they say, and their “scream” comes with air quotes. Maybe. But, it felt like I was moments from clawing someone across the face.

My head got hot.

My face flushed – to where I could feel it. I broke into a sweat. And my voice went up to a hectoring, screamy pitch I haven’t heard since I was a child. I was THIS close from getting up and hurling myself headlong at this person.

Honestly? I didn’t know I had it in me.

The problem with lying to yourself is that you might believe it.

Self-deception is mainly a problem when dealing with your emotions. The thing about feelings is that… they’re there. They’re still there even when you’ve shoved them down past your line of sight. They’re not something you ever truly control. You feel how you feel; you can only control acknowledgment and action.

Kelvingrove Museum D 523

Though I know that, for most of my life, and for much of the lives of many people of the female persuasion, being angry is something that was delegated to the male of the species. They yelled, we jumped. They barked, we acted… at least, that’s how it was in my family. My mother never appeared to be angry – never does appear, to this day. She glided with serenity through my childhood, and only wept when we disappointed her. Now, there were a very few times when she broke something… but that was considered anomaly based on how much we had truly vexed her. She didn’t scream and shake us, she cried. And that was the only polite way for women to be angry, maybe.

After decades of trying, I find I am not my mother. I know I get angry. After twenty-odd years of keeping company with Tech Boy, he knows I get angry, too. I have evolved past the need to call it annoyed, vexed, irritated, cross, or ill-tempered. He has gotten a kick out of telling me, through the years, that I’m really working my thesaurus, all to avoid saying I am angry enough to bash his brains out with a loaf of bread. I try not to allow self-deception to cloud my mind and tell me that I’m only allowed to be “disappointed” or to sob quietly when I want to legitimately strangle someone.

Significantly, I was nowhere near weeping the other night. Still — this just caught me off guard and swept my feet out from beneath me. This… towering rage.

Kelvingrove 272

Theoretically, we all know better now than to talk about politics.

Politics claw out our hearts and reveal our spleen. Politics are so broken and jagged that they’re not fit for indoor use, only for storage out back with all the other broken, rusted things. We know better than to let politics in, just as we know better than to let in a rambunctious or rabid beast… Especially over dinner. Especially with near-strangers. Especially in mixed company – not everyone likes animals, and some people fear them. It is ironic that none of the Emily Post-style strictures with which we, in polite company, otherwise surround ourselves came into play the other night. If they had, I could have saved myself a little chagrin.

I already knew that the people visiting did not share my ethics and beliefs. I had already explained – possibly with an edge in my voice – the significance of the Legacy Award in the American Library Association pantheon of awards, and what it means to have a lasting legacy of the sort one would wish to keep as opposed to the unfortunate legacy of blackface and racial slurs toward Native people that some books have. (Could people otherwise not at all invested, interested, or involved in children’s lit please kindly step RIGHT out of that whole discussion? Kthx.) I had already taken a breath and let go rather snide remarks about religion by rationalizing to myself that I didn’t believe in an -ism either; I believed in an -ist, full stop, and so I could fail to be piqued by the jibe about that. I already knew that some people take pride in feeling smug that they are better than other people, better educated, more savvy, more secure in their intelligence, and they have a snide little laugh at those lesser beings — even very nice people who believe themselves to be otherwise open-hearted and sympathetic. It can be a habit that becomes ingrained and I of all people can cut individuals some slack for that.

But not, apparently, for complaining about the NRA, and how it’s not fair that they no longer have a voice, and “those g-d kids don’t know s-t about anything.”

Kelvingrove Museum D 586

Cry havoc, and let loose the sins of wrath.

Probably it was the French thing that did me in.

I love to know the etymology of everything because that’s who I am, and the whole “pardon my French” thing seems especially false, seeing as the French would not likely be bothered with the speaker, and more importantly, that the speaker cannot actually speak French at all, not even a tiny little bit. The phrase comes from the myriad switches during English history after the Norman Invasion of “we hate them, no we think they’re okay now; wait, we hate them again,” as people who spoke French or used French words excused themselves because others would either not understand, or they would look down upon them. Of course, these attitudes came right across the pond to the Colonies, and then we had French letters – condoms – French pox – syphilis – and French novels – pornography – that were in common usage during the 19th century. (Thanks, otherwise useless 19th Century British & American Lit English degree!) To hear people excuse profanity and blame the French is a big eye-roller for me. Hello? Own up to your own vulgarity, you sniveling weasel. Leave the French alone; they’re surely ignoring you anyway.

So, when this comment about the NRA was prefaced with “excuse my French” I wanted to point out that there is no right to bear arms in France, and that country has some of the strongest gun laws in Europe. I wanted to allow that if a high school in France had been shot up — years after an elementary school – that no one would be arguing that a non-governmental body who receives money from gun manufacturers, an organization which clearly has conflicts of interest riddling their judgment, had the right to petition the government. No one would be insiting that such ethically compromised people had the RIGHT and the NECESSITY to be on hand to shape their government’s decisions.

But, this is not France. And, neither France, nor the NRA is the point, to be honest. The point is that I forgot when I watched activists and protestors go toe-to-toe with strangers, raising their voices and their signs, that there is a human element involved. I have made such space in my life for peaceful compromise, for attentive understanding of my privileged belief systems and positions – Christian, Protestant, cis-het – that I neglected to make allowance for the role conviction plays in the bedrock of our belief when we are not trying to make room at the table for what others hold dear. I forgot that when we truly believe, we’re all in, throwing our hearts and our minds after our teeth and our claws.

I forgot that we’re all really little beasts, and only pretend to be more than that, and that it all comes out when we think – when we KNOW – that someone else is wrong.

It is a curious sensation.

{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.