{#npm’17: “this isn’t who we are”}

I hate the phrase, after a national tragedy, an horrible political faux pas, or in the face of people behaving badly in public spaces – at those times, I especially hate the phrase, “this isn’t who we are.” I know that people say it to distance themselves from something, but it makes as much sense as looking at a doughy abdomen or hammertoes and saying, “this isn’t who my body is.” Um, yes… Yes, it is. Your spare tire and crooked toes are a part of the whole, and even the bits of us that we don’t like are still… us.

So, how do we divorce ourselves from the truth of ourselves? We don’t. We own up, and we do better. That’s really the only option open to us, isn’t it? If we’re to be true to ourselves?

“you may experience feelings of momentary discomfort”

“This is not who we are,” good souls profess.
“This brief discomfort heralds changing views.”
The dream, America, is dispossessed.

And politicians wallow in the mess
Eyes rolling wild, while looking for their cues —
“This is not who we are.” Good souls profess

To understand the needs of the oppressed,
Who are not newly pressured, but eschew
The “dream America.” We, dispossessed.

“Just rhetoric and chatter,” pundits stress.
“A bigot’s dreams could never here come true.”
This IS. Not who we are? Good souls, profess!

Resist. Support, with dogged faithfulness
Those who, with courage march. We must push through
the dream and wake. Our country, in distress.

Distracted by your grieving? Reassess
The help you gave when this did not touch you…
This. Is. Not. Who. We. Are. Good souls, protect
The dreamer, wakening, and dispossessed.

Oakland 56

In case you can’t read it:
“All Putin got was a lap dog; this guy got a Lab!”

{#npm’17: *tap, tap* is this thing on?}

It’s National Poetry Month! And April Fool’s Day. As I looked in complete bewilderment at the Google GNOME, I completely misplaced one of these bits of information… and yes, I was probably the only one who took that seriously and muttered, “What!?”

But, never mind. It’s late afternoon, and my brain has FINALLY caught up. It’s National Poetry Month, and for the past few years, I’ve been doing haiku – but I did that in December, with the theme of healing. I am going to continue to present poetry, but I think instead of sticking with one form, I am going to stick with a poetic theme: truth. Does that just mean things that are true, like facts? Or home truths? Conventional wisdom (or, is that always true)? Or…?

I don’t know yet. But, we’ll find out.


            By Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Birch Aquarium 17

Beauty is not enough, no… but here’s some anyway.

{pf: poetry 7 revisits the ekphrastic}

Bateu a saudade... faz um 31!!!

Wow. It’s March. That happened fast.

This month, I steered the challenge for the Poetry Sisters gathering, selecting a 2008 photograph taken in Porteirinha, Brazil by Flickr user Ana_Cota. The young lady – incidentally named Jessica – is balancing on her bike to reach a telephone, if you can’t see clearly beneath the weather hood. Pay phones are now nonexistent in many places, thus the picture’s title – bateu a saudade – feel the nostalgia!

Nostalgia was a good thematic jumping off place for me. The super-saturated color aspect makes the image look dated – Technicolor Kodachrome. The super-intensity of the brightness created disjointedness internally – and I felt like this needed blank verse, or another poetic form that wasn’t so formally bordered. I don’t know that I’m finished with what I came up with, but…

while you were out

static on a line
undefeated by dial tone
(can you hear me now?)
the ‘Busy’ signal stutters
The number you have reached has…

…disconnected, the past
is a foreign country. Still,
A man is not dead
while his name is still spoken
Gone, but always Going Home.

one thin dime’s distance
separates the here & now
we stretch, though time eludes our grasp
always calling back a world that is Going.

Once upon a time, the paint on this building was fresh, not flaking, the walk not caked with red dust. Once-upon-a-time Jessica, balanced on her bike, is likely in high school now, a this childish moment caught here and gone… like people, and things like public phones, childhood homes, and landmarks. Feel the nostalgia now?

“A man is not dead while his name is still spoken,” is a line from Sir Terry Pratchett, as is the phrase “always Going Home.” Both are from his book GOING POSTAL. Sir Terry passed away in March of 2015, and, as his books still carry his voice, including the last one, which I am still too sad to read, he will never be gone.

On a less melancholic note, don’t miss the ekphrastic poems of the rest of our crew. Laura – enjoying the quirk of Iceland on a well deserved holiday just now – pulls this off beautifully. Kelly went the Lewis Carroll route here. We mourn the loss of Superman’s changing room with Tricia, find a short and sweet poem about growingalso about standing tall from Sara, and Andi is waving from the sidelines this month.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Heidi Mordhorst’s Juicy Little Universe where the celebration for poet Billy Collins rolls on!

{poetry friday: all is well}

So, this atmospheric river has unleashed a series of storms which have culminated in the flood of the century — apparently my home state hasn’t been this wet since 1863 or something around then. I don’t mind the rain, and apparently didn’t even notice a tropical storm that got named, (to be fair, that was an event on the Southern end of the state, not the Northern) but I couldn’t miss Sunday night’s wild wind. They rattled this solid old house in sixty mile-an-hour gusts, and we didn’t sleep well – waking every few minutes as a new gust rattled the deck, the corrugated siding on the porch roof, and our nerves.

At first light, we broke the cardinal rule of family communications and actually texted each other before ten a.m., checking in to see if everyone in our various homes was in one piece. Well, my siblings all had stories, of course; we communicate solely through stories, at a certain age, interrupting each other with breathless details. My parents, though, had gone on with their day, and I got a note from my mother – the next Monday night – that said, “we’re fine, not even floating.” My father’s note was even funnier and more succinct: All is well.

My father only recently breached the twentieth century by getting an email account of his own. He doesn’t like to type. Or write. Or, like, communicate. And, “all is well” in his mind means that possibly the aviary roof blew off, the cockatiels are all escaped, the pug’s under the shed, and a tree fell. “All is well” means, “I’m not dead, don’t bother me.” Ah, parents.

Today’s political poem is dedicated to my friend Elaine, whose writing at Political Verses was my first introduction to turning every form into something with deeper meaning. She has a new book out for kids that has nothing to do with this, but she’s on my mind today.

lies for children

all is well, he said
(he meant, “none of your concern.”)
nothing more calming
or less informative than
half-truths reserved for children.

the House that we built
We, the People, meaning “all”
sways in these high tides
swamped by tsunamis of lies
tell me true: will we get well?

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Karen Edmisten’s shockingly cleverly named blog.

{Granny Weatherwax reminds you}

“There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example,” said Oats.

“And what do they think? Against it, are they?” said Granny Weatherwax.

“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”



“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that—”

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes—”

“But they starts with thinking about people as things…”

People are not things to be moved around, denied, abused, or miseducated. This is your reminder, in case, with the noise of the world, you needed one. Resist this sin with all your soul. Thou shalt not allow people to be used as things, nor put up with that nonsense from thine government without a loud outcry.

*This from CARPE JUGULUM, by Terry Pratchett

{living with fire: a tutorial}

One last villanelle to kick off a new week:

“Two people in a burning house must not stop to argue.” – a proverb of Ghana

But, how do you live in a house on fire?
How do you breathe in the heart of the blaze?
Chutzpah, persistence and nerve this requires.

A body learns not to flinch at high wires
(Though heartbeats may skip as that body sways)
But, how do you live in a house on fire?

A rabbit adjusts to life in a briar
The thorns become turns and twists of the maze;
Chutzpah, persistence and nerve this requires.

The swamp spatters those who brave its quagmire
One risks drowning death to drain its malaise,
But… How? Do you live in a house on fire?

The heat also roars, deafened, you perspire,
But carry on with your bucket upraised.
Chutzpah, persistence and nerve this requires…

Keep breathing this smoke, you’ll surely expire –
Why stay, with eyes streaming, in choking haze?
And how do you live? In a house on fire,
Chutzpah, persistence and nerve are required.

{poetry friday & p7: villanelle}

February already. What a long, strange trip its been in 2017. Each day I wake and… function. And feel such empathy for those who have to function in public, especially teachers, who have to shine and smile…but how?

Those were the thoughts with which I greeted the second month of the Poetry Sisters’ annual Year in Poetry challenge. This month is Kelly’s choice, and she compelled us to write a villanelle on the subject of brevity/shortness. Now, we’ve revisited the villanelle repeatedly, and it’s actually one of my favorite forms. But, having finished a revision the penultimate week of January, I found myself floundering and the spatter of acidic ink on all of those “orders” – from Hater-in-Chief and the Confederate Cabinet – ate my creativity for lunch. This annoyed me. I am a child of the 80’s who wrote bad poetry all the time in response to the tyranny of shoulder pads. I could do this.

The trick, it turned out, was volume, the same thing that worked in my tween years. I wrote TONS of awful villanelle, a form which easily lends itself to overstating a point. Sneer poetry? Is not nice. And I am so GOOD at it. I screeded, blaming everyone for everything. I showed no love at all. I recently started embroidering thistles, and they were enough to make me write about weeds, thorns, and bleeding (It’s a Glasgow thing. Nemo me impune lacessit, and all that. It worked for me. Don’t judge).

Eventually, after many awful poems marinated in sarcasm and mean wit, I realized that my biggest fears about brief time these days were about myself… and what I feared I didn’t have time for anymore, and was wasting time doing, et voilà. A poem I could live with.

(And then, as ALWAYS happens, when I get something I can work with, something ELSE springs fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, with words I didn’t know I wanted to say which answer my original question of “how” – however, since that poem is wildly off-topic of our theme, I’ll share it later.)

If you’d like to check out themed villanelles from people who probably didn’t have to write ten run-up poems, and who can follow a theme without getting lost in their own heads (!), do see Kelly’s poem, on self-care which has to be a topical first; Tricia’s offering, Liz, in just under the wire; Sara’s “all too brief” rhymes and Laura’s, whose timely tweet to the gang, showing the poem in progress, put the spurs to us! (We’ll wave to Andi from our repeating lines, and see her next time.)

And for more poetry from poets who wrote and write during daily drudgery as well as intense moments of antipathy, don’t miss Poetry Friday, which today is hosted by Penny Parker Klosterman at A Penny & Her Jots.

The bad moon has risen, orange and malignant from the smoke in the air, as the garbage fire roars. Affix your breath mask and center yourself. You’ve got this. Go.


“…In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate.
Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

From W.H. Auden’s elegy for Yeats, 1939.

{freedom’s just another word for …}

“Freedom is not a thing you can receive as a gift. One can be free even under a dictatorship on one simple condition, that is, if one struggles against it. A man who thinks with his own mind and remains uncorrupted is a free man. A man who struggles for what he believes to be right is a free man. You can live in the most democratic country in the world, and if you are lazy, callous, servile, you are not free, in spite of the absence of violence and coercion, you are a slave.”

Ignazio Silone