{#npm: 30 – innocence • p7 & pf}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to try our challenge in the month of May! Here’s the plan: We’re going to write an ekphrastic poem using a photograph taken in a museum. We’re sharing a few amongst ourselves, but we’re sure you have some of your own – and it’s a great way to get us revved up about going back to museums! Interested? Good! You’ve got a month to craft your creation(s), then share your offering (or someone else’s) with the rest of us on May 28th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.


Andi challenged us with Linda Hogan’s poem, “Innocence“ this week, a fitting finish to the entire National Poetry Month celebration. We wanted to go out with a boom and boy was it a doozy. Here’s what Sara did with it. Kelly and Laura are taking a breather this week, but Tricia’s poem is here, Kelly’s is here, Liz’s is here. Andi’s is here. Check in throughout the day to find out what other Poetry Peeps have done. If you’d like more Poetry Friday content, Matt Forrest Esenwine is graciously hosting the roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme this week. Thanks, Matt!


“Innocence” is beautiful, deep and… utterly inimitable. It falls outside the usual topical sphere for my poetry, so I approached writing “in the style of” from a number of different angles. My Poetry Sisters all threw out their own recommendations, and I tried using haiku, then sijo, then mimicking Hogan’s topics – nature, growth – and her pattern of lines and syllables – 10-6-4. None of that really worked for me, so I set my attempts aside to really think about the title.

Contrary to all appearances, innocence is conceptually complicated, often a loaded concept for some growing up an ethnic minority, female, and/or religious. Some people are never embraced as innocent, witnessed by the number of girls sent home for dress code violations, as if they are only their bodies and are threat and distraction instead of children, or viewed askance because of early maturation, or even early pregnancies. Because there was so much – too much – swirling around a single word, I grounded innocence as far back as I could – to an image from childhood. This poem is based on one of my earliest memories, of watching my older sister at church, who was probably no more than five at the time, wearing what my envious sister eyes determined to be a fabulous yellow dress, standing up to recite with her class. (And yes: this is my sister, nearly five, in The Dress. Some fortymumble years later, I figure she won’t mind if I show her off. She looks the closest thing to a baby, yet I remember thinking she was oh, so grown-up then.)

How much of what we held in childhood do we keep? How do we navigate the passage between childhood certainties and adulthood’s intricacies? What does it mean to be young at heart, or have a child’s optimism and faith? I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced I was able to go where I wanted to in this poem (you don’t want to know how many times I rearranged lines and fiddled), but as I wrestled with at the eleventh hour, I reminded myself – and you, too: the challenge isn’t perfection, but persistence. So, here we try again:

             

Be thou faithful unto death &

Is there anything more innocent
than an unformed soul clutching tight her crayoned crown,
as, words a wavering childish treble,
she recites revelation? ablaze with
purity, knowing neither faithfulness
nor death she
stands; stray sunbeam whitening a dress already luminous
proclaiming borrowed words, she is, personified,
a mother’s pride, transformed larger than life
in these two wondering eyes

We grew, wholesome as wheat, but I backward looking, linger to
wonder: who decodes such concepts as
faithfulness and faith? whose hand, holding keys to childhood certainties
points toward one door, while locking tight another? Perhaps
pushing past crowns and covenants, we all return at last
to merely human

a child, I watched, awaiting my turn, lips shaping
each confident consonant. Child-hearted now,
in uncertain innocence, I
claim my chance to choose my crown

                

…I will give thee a crown of life.

{#npm: 28 – turn}

“Sometimes,” a beloved poem begins, “things don’t go, after all, from bad to worse.” As a realist (READ: downer) I tend to think of life as a long road filled with disasters that you can see coming from far off – and then, there’s this turn… and you can’t see around that at all.

We are nearly to the turn.

Sometimes, not everything goes wrong.

Every year at the coming of Spring, we contemplate the fire season. We can’t see around that turn. Every year one of my nephews gains – happy birthday, Little E! – brings him closer to – or finally past – the age where another little boy was shot holding a pop gun or while backtalking or walking home or while looking like he was somehow dangerously unchild and suspicious and threatening to grown adults with guns. We can’t see around that turn. Sometimes not everything goes wrong, but it takes a tremendous amount of trust to keep walking this road.

can we see that far?
past the turn, the hill rises
sun-kissed and ancient

{#npm: 22 – joiner}

It’s not my first, nor my fifteenth thought to join a crowd. I generally stay to the edges, or turn in the opposing direction. It frustrates people. It sometimes frustrates me, but I am what I am, and habits of solitude are hard to break. That’s a bit of irony given the state of the world just now, wherein we have all been afflicted, to varying degrees, with the same thing. Now we are trying, in varying degrees, to fix it. To find our balance.

It feels strange, being part of the multitude.

in so small a pond
who can fail to notice? fish
flunking out of schools

{#npm: 19 – silence}

Every once in a while I remember back in the early ’00’s when I asked a friend how she could bear to put her whole life on the internet. “But, it isn’t my whole life,” she explained. “It’s just the parts I’m sharing.” On MySpace, which I eventually understood could be renamed “My space for a mere echo of my actual self,” I learned that it was …tidier to keep some things back. It was… expected, and it made things neater.

It’s funny how much harder that is for me with poetry.

what we do not say
flutters up on pinioned wings
like moths seeking flame

{#npm: 14 – witness}

Prior to now, I haven’t made an antiracist statement on any of my social media, nor did I put anything here on the blog. Candidly, it felt disingenuous from me, a little “hop on the zeitgeist bandwagon,” in a sense. I mean, did I really need to make an official statement? I would hope my life would speak in such a way that you’d be able to tell whether or not I’d spit on someone for their ethnicity of all things! But you know what? Maybe. Not. You don’t know me, nor do we truly know anyone through their social persona. Staying silent is easily misinterpreted, ergo: Both the historical and the recently reported spate of violence – physical or psychological – against people of AAPI ancestry is deeply wrong, and intolerable, and will never come to pass without criticism or response anywhere I take notice and have the ability to deflect, push back, or speak against it. NEVER.


People catch us off guard; people whose lives we thought were …”normal,” or at least whom we believed held “normal” views on equality and egalitarianism. Hearing them engage in offhand, casual xenophobia will always be like licking a battery; an unpleasant jolt. In aggrieved shock, our impulse is to open our hands and fling the offending thing away. I’ve wanted to fling away friendships, but, fearing that I’m being intolerant, I’ve found myself outlining why that statement or this action is a microaggression, bigoted, intolerant, ignorant, unjust… But, just how much does one explain? How much ignorance, innocence do we ascribe to grown adults? Bias is implicit, baked in. It’s America’s busiest industry; our largest export. But there’s this… idealism that persists, that people should know that we’re all just… human, and not make nasty assumptions or sly inferences. My child-heart just keeps on hoping that the “average” person is really me, that most of us are like people I know, that is, good people. But…no. No. Such shock, these xenophobic interactions bring me, they leave me asking, Do I really know any of you at all?

Did you hear Kwame Alexander’s beautiful community-sourced poem against hate the other day on Morning Edition? In honor of that poem, and in honor of my Asian family, colleagues, friends and even strangers who share my neighborhood and this world, my heart is a sanctuary on offer. Come in. Share this house.

come to the table
here is a sanctuary
come name yourself kin.

come, bringing pickle
milk bread, stuffed dumplings, sharing
communal plenty

come bearing heartbreak:
break bread. bear witness. wrap wounds.
cry out. be consoled

come, sate your senses
brim with such bounty – feasting,
too full for sadness


come – you belong here
succor and sanctuary
wait. come, take your place

{#npm: 12 – potential}

Was thinking the other day of the glib frothiness with which we infuse Spring metaphor – all that talk about rebirth, depicted with peaceful pastels, fluffy chicks and quivering-nosed bunnies. Never having given birth, that still seems a bit suspect. I remember my sister after the nephews – both times she looked like she’d gone 12-rounds with a prizefighter. Not a lot of fluffy pastel peace to be had there. Birth – and rebirth alike – seems a messy, chaotic and overwhelming battle, from my observation. I suspect Springtime also contains such tension in its bunched buds…

“blessed event?” all
clenched and knotted buds, boding
bloom-rich eruptions

{#npm: 11 – duty}

When I was a kid, I remember the Target ad which played The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…in September, advertising back-to-school sales. Tons of people think Christmas – or Spring – or September – is the most wonderful time of year, but for myself, I’m a shoulder season person – late Autumn into early Winter. Late Winter before Spring. Or now, that sweet spot time of year when it’s nippy cold outside in the morning and in the evening, but right around noon is the perfect time to take lunch outside and just bask in the beauty. Ah…

an April Sunday
as blooms in backyard beds preen.
darn these dumb taxes.

Sigh. May your Sunday be filled with song, naps, and strawberries in cream, and not W-2’s and 1099’s.

{#npm: 6 – scattered}

Several times today I’ve already asked myself where my head’s at… It’s just one of those days with too much to do. My laptop screen is flickering, I’m carrying things in my brain to add to a grocery list, I have packages to go to the post office… on and on it piles up.

I believe the greatest triumph of the human mind is the ability to organize ourselves from running in seventy different directions with the simple words “I’ll get to it.” And despite everything, I will… eventually.

windblown confetti
petals in a fractious wind
scattered like my thoughts

Laura writes so much poetry I missed that she’s writing equation poetry this month! Check it out! • West Coast folk (or those with neighbors who won’t mind them singing late into the night) are invited to join a Music Memo project… since music is poetry set alight. • And don’t miss the interview with Tasha Spillett-Sumner & Michela Goade for I Sang You Down from the Stars which is both a picture book and a poem.

{#npm: 5 – early}

Apparently no one told the weather that after Passover and Easter it was meant to be all clear skies, baby chicks, and tulips until Memorial Day. It’s swaddling fog today – I just repurposed that verb – and it was forty-two at half eight. The seed packet I read the other day made dire mutterings about not planting before all danger of frost is past – well, I’m pretty sure we’ve passed that worry, but there is certainly no soil warmed to 65° as my lemongrass would prefer. I mentioned just the other day that it’s usually colder indoors than out…? So, how is it that every year I’m beguiled into turning off the heater at the beginning of April??

too soon wool socks shunned –
breezes brush against bare legs,
gilded with goosebumps

Did you know that you can now can the saga of Star Wars like you would Beowulf, or any other narrative poetry? The whole plot has been done over as epic poetry – which, given the “long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away” conceit works perfectly. I’ve enjoyed revisiting the Icelandic sagas since visiting Iceland, and while I don’t normally love long poetry, I’m kind of intrigued by this project.

The Shelf Stuff on Instagram is honoring Beverly Cleary ahead of her 105th birthday next month. Share why you loved her work, and where it resonated with you.

Don’t forget to check the National Poetry Month children’s lit blogger roundup! And, for goodness sakes, stay warm…

{#npm4: illumined}

Happy Easter, if you celebrate today!

Still more words of shine and dazzle and blaze, even with a foggy start to the day…Once started, I can’t seem to stop the flow of light and contrast everywhere.


Incidentally, this picture was snapped in a church courtyard almost ten years ago – the little person now a much older person who probably wouldn’t be caught dead in a poufy dress Mama liked. But I loved how she danced, both she and silhouette, a lively pas de deux of shadow-sprite and sunbeam.

May you go out and do your own dancing today!