The day I got my three vaccinations, I asked if I should have the one for RSV – not remembering that not everyone can have it.
“Are you sixty-five?” the pharmacist asked, brows raised in polite query.
“Oh. Nope,” I laughed. “I’m not yet so privileged to have lived that long.”
“And it is a privilege, isn’t it?” he mused, swabbing my arm.
Yes. It is. And as I scowl at my sugar-frosted hair – which I usually have streaked with various shades of purple and blue – I am grateful, indeed, for the privilege… even if my hair looks goofy, because silver hair has the consistency of WIRE and really likes to stick up. ::sigh::
you silver fox –
this hair that’s going white?
call it the icing on the cake
I often think of my grandmother, when I think of the work that I do, and the life that I live. She left school in the third grade so I could have my MFA. Such thanks for that word, progress…
they only worked:
school was not for brown kids,
but she raised her own to want more.
Welcome to another Poetry Friday Poetry Peeps adventure!
Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge for the month of December! Here’s the scoop: We’re writing the eleven-syllable German cinquain, the Elfchen. Unfamiliar? There’s plenty online about this brief form, which has often been taught in German elementary schools, so intangible bonus points wenn dein Gedicht auf Deutsch ist (if your poem is in German). Are you game? Good! The Poetry Sisters are continuing to throw our 2023 theme of TRANSFORMATION into the mix as possible. Whatever your topic or theme, you have a month to craft your creation and share it on December 29th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.
Poetry Friends! I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving/Friendsharing/ChosenFamily/Family Day yesterday. I am putting this blog post together a week in advance, and might not ‘see’ some of your posts right away, but I will get there and add you to the Valerie Worth round-up! What with travel and meals and homes full of guests, those of us nearby may be a bit slower – so do pop back in for a full roundup later in the weekend. Meanwhile, it was delightful to meet with almost the whole gang at our Poetry Sisters prewrite last week. You must check out Mary Lee’s poem here. Sara’s poem is here. Laura is joining us here, while Liz’s poem is here, and Tricia’s poem is here. Laura’s poem flew in to land here. Michelle K.’s poem is here. Linda B.’s poem is here.
Poetry Friday is hosted by Ruth @There Is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town, long-distance from Uganda, so let’s take our time with Ruth and savor everything, along with a second helping of pie.
“Never forget that the subject is as important as your feeling: The mud puddle itself is as important as your pleasure in looking at it or splashing through it. Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry – because, in many ways, the mud puddle is the poetry.” (Valerie Worth, quoted in Another Jar of Tiny Stars, the second NCTE book of award-winning poetry, edited by Bernice E. Cullinan and Deborah Wooten
As I recall from our brainstorming session at the beginning of this year, we chose to write in the style of Valerie Worth first because many of us were less than familiar with much of her work, except her books for children, and secondly, because her poems are short(ish), small, plain-spoken (unrhymed), and specific. Note that when we say ‘small,’ we don’t mean an additional observation on length, but rather a topical observation on the dialed in, specific topics Valerie Worth judged worthy of poetry. Fence posts. Rags. Earthworms. Mushrooms. Valerie Worth was a poet who had, as Mary Oliver attributed to excellent writers, “an attitude of noticing.” I believe that observation lends itself to its own theme of transformation… In so many ways, when one is able to extrapolate the extraordinary from the mundane, it changes things seen, experienced, known, and understood. Inasmuch as Mary Oliver described that ‘noticing’ as a relentless and dynamic curiosity about the world, I believe that Valerie Worth’s unwillingness to exclude anything from observation is what enabled her to be a poet whose work is memorable and occasionally astonishing. To that end, in my own choosing, I purposefully looked for ‘small’ topics. I thought of my dead sunflowers, which I’ve left in place because the birds really love them, Himself’s giant clogs which I keep tripping over on the garage step, and the draft evader I fashioned from flat fiberfill stuffing and torn flannel rags. Sunflowers when they’re bright get plenty of ink – not so much when they’re dead. We might write poems to baby shoes, but not to rubber gardening clogs. Few find the wads of cloth we stuff under door and windowsills particularly poetic, and yet…
I started by hewing as closely as I could to one of Worth’s actual poems. Sparrow is one of my favorites about a dun-colored bird minding her own business, and not caring if you look at her. I transferred the sparrow’s ubiquity to the boxy rubber clogs that seem to grow on the back step – worn by anyone whose feet will fit, perfect for standing in the outdoor kitchen frying something, or chucking things into the compost bin in the rain…
Our garden is still quite lively, for all that it is considered functionally dead. The dry flower heads, yellow-browning speckles of mildewed stalks and fallen seeds are alive with an hundred thousand birds, chasing lizards, squabbling, pecking, rolling in dust, and scratching like hens. This is why we’re the WORST gardeners – we can’t bear to tear everything out and turn it under just yet because the birds are having way too much fun. May they all make themselves at home.
(This handsome specimen isn’t MY draft stopper, which is a scrappy, patch-worked thing in various shades of ‘dirt.’ Mine is in the wash just now and unready for its close-up, so we’ll just pretend I actually stitched something pretty.)
Mary Oliver’s famously succinct ‘Instructions for Living a Life’ admonishes us fussily to “pay attention.” Maybe in a less didactic tone, as there is nothing truly obligatory here, we might encourage ourselves to give attention to our lives, to see within our every day ordinariness a sheen of the extraordinary. As German actress and coach Uta Hagen once famously said, “We must overcome the notion that we must be regular…” As we tunnel out from stolid regularity into glorious irregularity, exchange our viewpoint on life as ‘usual’ for the chance to revel in the unusual, may we discover that life is more than we knew. May we, by being open, inventive, expressive, and questioning, live our uncertainty and questions into answers that change everything.
All poems ©2023 Tanita S. Davis
I love Spanish – well, I love all my Duolingo language studies, which include at present are Spanish, Dutch, German, and Latin – but I love Spanish specifically today, because sometimes the literal translation of things makes me smile… like saying “thanksgiving” in Spanish. It is Día de Acción de Gracias. The day of the ACTION of gratitude. Such thanks for this reminder.
names it a noun –
while performing actions
with deliberation and thanks,
In 2019, poet Amy Schmidt opined in the “Poets Respond” section of Rattle online that no one could feel lonely when zesting an orange. Today, prepping for my cranberry salsa, I see her orange and raise her lime and ginger.
When the house is filled with the scents of tradition – well-loved meals and old recipes, it is hard not to be kept company by the memories of past holiday. Meals savored and empty platters, empty tables left with a confetti of crumbs, past times with friends, past celebrations and anticipations – and perhaps past hopes and anxieties, too. It’s a little bit crowded in the kitchen just now — swirling as it is with the many ghosts of meals gone by, holidays past, and the aching memories of absent loved ones pressing close to us.
kneaded into loaves
and simmered through every sauce,
voices long absent
dearly beloved and gathered
a fragrant cloud of witness
Those who are facing a “first Thanksgiving since…” this year, know you are not alone in your loss.
Autoimmune disorders – or any of the other various disorders of the mind or body which require trying several medications before you find one that works – have a routine. You take the drug, wait out that requisite activation time, sigh, then try the next thing the doctor proffers. I was speaking with a pharmacy nurse about a new drug and was surprised to hear her ask, as we were nearing the end of our talk, “And what will you do if the medication is successful?”
“I’m sorry?” I asked, caught off-guard. “Can you repeat that?”
“What will you do if the medication works, and your symptoms vanish? How will that change your day?”
“Ohhhh,” I said, finding my brain empty.
Friends, I didn’t know.
I have been at this for so long I no longer expect the drugs to work. That’s… a pretty big realization.
Upon reflection, however, I found such gratitude for the question – a timely intervention into the same old, same old, medicate, rinse, repeat.
SOMEDAY, this is going to work. SOMEDAY this will not be a part of my life anymore. Someday we WILL kill it. Such thanks for the reminder to hope.
after Vertue, by George Herbert, 1633
That stabs with scalding blight,
A fraying rope made up of twisted lies
Pinioning me, knotting as I fight –
Someday, you’ll die.
Disease duplicitous, I crave
Concealment from your hot, malicious eye,
Knowing that nothing from your grasp can save,
I pray you’ll die.
This body, strong and weak, opposes
Both health and its reverse, as it supplies
A surge of cells, its will imposes
On that which someday dies.
Left with a body willed to be whole,
And by that will still grimly combative,
Clawing, enduring to the goal –
Freed from disease, someday, to live.
By the end of November, the last of the big academic conferences are over for the year, and Teh Interwebs are full of pictures of meetups and discussions of what went on, and who was there. I’ve never been to NCTE – it’s one of the places it would feel awkward to go, as a non-teaching writer, plus there’s the whole I-didn’t-really-do-it-for-long-enough-to-count imposter syndrome at play. But the photos and reports that come from there tell me that it’s a cherished event that people feel lucky to attend.
It occurs to me how fortunate we are in this era that the average person can pay a fee and attend, joining other smart people in hanging out and celebrating a thing that they love. Our society definitely has 99 million problems, but barring people from attending a conference, as if we were still in Guild days and only certain people by right of nobility had access to the opportunity and education it takes to excel in their chosen field, is fortunately not one of them. So, thanks, for that.
exchanging lesson plans
kindled words and hearts ignited
The sun is shining mightily today, after Friday and Saturday were dull and gray with rain. November is so dark and seen as so dreary that whenever the sun shines, it seems like it tries to do it a bit more brightly, just to make up for the inevitable indignities of winter…
clear, blue morning
breath, hanging, shivering
clouds holding possibility
It’s strange to realize that I’m old enough for an era to have passed…
When I was really little – almost five – our family moved out of the city to the suburbs, and our new minister was a very kindly, white South African man who always made a fuss over me, pulling my pigtails and demanding to know who I was and what on earth I was doing in his office – the usual weird nonsense adults say to children. Each time we met, he would say he didn’t remember me, or couldn’t possibly say my name, so he would just have to change it. To Jane.
In this year of our lord, 2023, the optics of a white South African man telling a Black child her name is too hard to say, so giving her a simpler name are… quite something. But, in nineteen seventywhat, I was just an amused child, giggling at the newest bit of nonsense an adult handed down to me.
I loved that girl, Jane –
She was simple. Sweet. Pretty.
When she bossed Sally
Or took up with Spot and Dick,
No one mispronounced her,
Misunderstood her, or mistook her
For just an easy read.
I was nineteen, and a social work friend from work asked anxiously, “Hey, do you have time to fill out a questionnaire? I have a friend doing a project…” So many of us were guinea pigs for each other’s projects in school, I thought this wouldn’t be any different… but it turned out to be The Black Women’s Health Study, and all these years later, I’m still part of Boston University’s massive, multi-year study through the Sloane Epidemiology Center, to predict and provide better health outcomes for black women. So much has been uncovered and discovered, and there’s so much information to come. To that end, I filled a vial with saliva this morning…
All for a good cause, I guess.
and uncertain fortunes
from crystal vials of spit – what
It’s ridiculous to have a doctor six hours away, but, it’s …how things ended up. When you find a good specialist, you keep them, and so I used to drive to the other end of the state, make a whole weekend of it, see friends in SoCal and then the doctor Monday morning, and back home. Later I sometimes tried to do the drive in a day – possible, but physically sapping. I turned to flying – there and back on the Southwest Airlines cattle car still took four hours out of my day – and sometimes more, with Southwest’s penchant for overbooking everything and cancelling anything. It was actually a relief when the pandemic meant I couldn’t make time-and-expense consuming, draining journeys anymore. And now I haven’t “seen” my specialist in almost four years… yet I “see” him every month like clockwork, via telehealth. As others have said, isn’t it astounding what suddenly wasn’t too hard, ‘specialized’ or costly for disabled people to have when everyone else needed it? So, thanks for that – for a bridge between the world and the house for those who needed it.
we wouldn’t do it
just for you –
‘it is not our policy’
too much. too expensive.
we couldn’t think it
able, and eager
we didn’t need it.
we cannot consider only you.
we serve everyone, everyone:
collective consideration –
so, for accommodation?
all things being equal,
we have to be fair.