Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Fill-In


Friday Fill-In #48

1. When my blog is broken, I pout -- big time.

2. I saw the most amazing smile on my wife's face this morning!

3. The Golden Compass is the new movie I'm most looking forward to seeing.

4. Work: Necessary and lately a little tiring.

5. Of all the new tv shows, I enjoy leaving the room and reading instead the most.

6. If only my throat felt better.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to eating whatever I want while my wife's out of town, tomorrow my plans include singing at the mall with my chorus and Sunday, I want to hibernate!

[See more Friday Fill-Ins here.]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Butterfly Patience


[Totally Optional Prompts asked for an animal poem, and since the Monday Poetry Stretch at the Miss Rumphius Effect asked for a sonnet (Italian form), this is what came out.]

Butterfly Patience

One gold and magic summer day
when we were young and full of "why?"
we sat in chairs, my bro and I
and rested from our childish play.
To sit in place, not move away,
was hard for younger bro to try.
Then from the air a butterfly
alighted on his arm to sway.
The monarch with its black/orange wing
had joined us in our short-lived rest.
We held our breath, then whispered, "oh,"
And wondered at this fragile thing.
Then careful not to touch it lest
it could not fly – we let it go.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Food Poem


[I finally got around to checking out the Read Write Poem site and found a lot of familiar blogging poets there. They prompted me to write a food poem - and with a poet who cooks, that opens up a lot of territory!]

After the Stomach Flu

For three days
I drank only a
small sip of water
followed by a wait,
and then a single, dry
saltine cracker.

But at last
I sat,
showered and dressed,
in the tiny, tidy shack
that was open for breakfast
and run by two nice old women.
I ordered a bowl
of oatmeal.

I added a bit of sugar,
and a little milk,
and I took a careful spoonful
into my mouth.
It was warm and soft,
and I swallowed
just like
on the cold mornings
of my childhood winters,
when Mom made sure
we always had a warm breakfast
before heading off to school.

I still remember that day
when oatmeal
was the best thing
I had ever eaten.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Knife of Winter


[a sonnet in response to a prompt at Cafe Writing's November Project to Pick Three of the given words.]

The Knife of Winter

The howl of the wind as it blows through my mind
is so loud that it scours the memories it touches.
I struggle to keep my impressions in line
as the roar does its best to rip dreams from my clutches.
The barrage is intense as cold winter descends.
I scrawl recollections of summery blooms,
but the frost freezes joints, and the rime! it transcends
all attempts to keep warm, then the iciness looms.
Any effort to fight seems the ultimate nonsense,
every scrap that I write, from one note to the next,
seems to lie down and die and give up any defense,
and hope is now foreign and leaves me perplexed.
The siren of winter knows how to entice,
'til I can't even leave any useful advice.

American Sentences


[I've finally had a chance to try my hand at writing American Sentences, thanks to a prompt at Read Write Poem.]

I see the history of my junk mail in the magnets on the fridge.

Five wild turkeys strut by in arrogance the day after Thanksgiving.

Medicine in my eyes turns my worldview into dim, blurry brushstrokes.

Returning from the In-Laws'
The goal is to cross the state line before we have to fill up the tank.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thankful 2007


This year I am especially thankful for:

1. modern antibiotics
2. pie (pretty much all kinds)
3. fleece (boy was it cold out today)
4. contact lenses (even though I can't go back to wearing them yet)
5. being at home and having my own bed to sleep in

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poem of Apology


[The Monday Poetry Stretch at The Miss Rumphius Effect was to write a poem of apology, inspired by some pretty cool apologies that you should read about. Follow the links. This is my (belated) addition to the effort.]


I apologize
for not apologizing
an eye infection
kept me away
from the keyboard
and anyway
everything was

[I saw the doctor yesterday and the ointment she gave me seems to be helping a lot. Hope this isn't TMI (too much information).]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chess Is Elementary


[Sunday Scribblings this week prompted us with "I carry..." It took me a while to figure out my response: I carry memories and stories. And eventually I'm going to write most of them down in one place or another. What follows is a real-life story, a memory evoked by a picture.]

Carmi posted a picture of chess pieces. Go on, take a look. I'll wait.
Then he asked what it said to us. To me it whispered a memory:

My dad didn't like games of chance. He tolerated very few of the card and board games my brother and I had when we were young. He could be convinced to play only one hand of "War" with the deck of cards. But he was more than willing to play any game with at least a small element of skill or strategy. He taught us Rummy and checkers. And while we were still in grade school he taught us to play chess.

He taught us how each piece moved, and what they were called. He taught us how to think before moving the piece, and how that once we moved, we couldn't take the move back. He taught us that we should try to think ahead as many moves as possible -- to imagine "what would happen if..." By the time I was in fifth grade (and ten years old) I had been playing chess for two or three years.

I usually didn't play chess with my younger brother. I don't think he liked it as well, and when he got bored with any game, he was apt to try to cheat. Since that only made me angry, I tried to pick games with him carefully.

I didn't play chess with my friends because none knew how. I don't know if I ever offered to teach them, but I think chess was something very foreign to their experience. Most of their parents did not play, and most probably didn't even have a set in the house, unless it came with a checkers set. No, we played other board games, sometimes checkers, but more often something with a pair of dice or a spinner and with colorful plastic markers.

In our elementary school we usually went outside during recess, all year long. If it was cold, we bundled into warm coats. If it was hot, we were happier to be outside than in the non-air-conditioned building. But if it rained, we stayed inside. Instead of playing on swings and teeter-totters, instead of playing kickball or tetherball, instead of jump-rope or tag, instead of stretching our muscles we played games in the classroom. It would take 15 minutes to sort out the games and figure out how to divide them up. We had about 25 kids in the class. Once you factored in the amount of time it took to put games away at the end of recess, there was little time left in the middle to play anything.

When I was in fifth grade, we had one particularly rainy week. By the third day, a lot of us were tired of the games we'd had out and someone noticed a chess set. This person asked if anyone knew how to play chess and it turned out that only two of us knew how to play: I did and Brian did.

I didn't know Brian very well. First of all, he was a boy and we hadn't reached an age where boys and girls played together very much. He didn't live in my immediate neighborhood, but he did live pretty close to where my best friend lived. He had a brother and a mother, but I don't remember if he had a dad. Someone had told me his mother was blind and that seemed like a scary thing to me. But Brian knew how to play chess.

That 10-year-olds could play chess seemed to fascinate our classmates. We agreed to play and we set up the board on a table in the back of the small classroom. We had a large audience, something I'd never experienced before. It was one thing for Mom or for my brother to look on while I played with my dad, but to have half a dozen or more people looking on was intimidating.

I don't remember much about the game and I'm sure it was pretty unimpressive. Neither of us was a chess prodigy, and we were pretty well matched. It did surprise me a little because for two years I'd been shifted to a "gifted" track with extra assignments, while Brian was in the regular track. I guess I had thought that chess was only for really, really smart people. It shifted my idea of what smart was. And it shifted my idea of who was smart. I also remember looking at Brian's face. I don't think I had noticed before how shy he was.

We must have played for about a half an hour. We were nowhere finished with the game when recess ended, but I remember we told each other "good game" and shook hands. The plastic chess pieces were put away and stored with the rest of the games and I don't remember any more too-rainy-to-stay-inside days the rest of that school year.

I never played chess with Brian again. Our paths just didn't cross. I no longer remember Brian's last name, and I don't know where life took him, but I do remember the attention we shared that rainy day across a chess board.

Saturday, November 17, 2007



[this poem was written years ago, but I think it is just right for the Weekend Wordsmith prompt "grass"]


Blade by blade,
the color of the lawn
changes first from
desolate brown
to desperate green,
raindrops teasing
the tired leaves awake.

As the cloud recedes
the threadbare carpet
shrugs into a more knowing shade
and idly gathers
the cast-off layer
of sallow summer dust.

Changeable Weather


[The beginning of this was written a couple of weeks ago on the pad of paper I carry in my purse.]

Changeable Weather

There is spitting
as I enter the tunnel,
and the waving of blue
seaweed tendrils
thumping and pounding.
A sudden rainstorm
beats down and sideways,
leaving everything wet,
and small bubbles appear.
A shift of weather
sends a roar of wind,
hot air drying everything.
At last the dark curtain rises
and I pull out into the
bright sunlight
and head away
from the carwash
to run the rest of my errands.

4 x 4 Poetry Meme


Whirling Dervish at stoney moss tagged me with this meme:
List at least four things you think a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid.
I sketched out my answers before I read what the other folks had written. There's a bit of overlap, but maybe that means we're on to something.

4 things to attend to:
1 - Use your emotion as fuel. For a beginning poet the burning drive of a strong emotion can make your pen fly. What you end up with may not be good, but it gets you going. And a nugget may emerge here and there. I started with teenage angst (a long time ago).

2 - Find out where you like to write. See if you need to turn off (or walk away from) the TV to write better. Or maybe you need a buzz of crowds in a public place to spark your muse. Or favorite music. Personally I write best when it is quiet - not even music. But my ideas come to me everywhere, which brings me to

3 - Make sure you always have a pen and a little bit of paper with you so that when the great idea slams into your brain, you can jot down enough of it so that later you can use it. If something you see or hear or smell or touch makes you go, "hmmm" then maybe it is worth musing about through poetry.

4 - Read your poems out loud. Read slowly, as if you had never seen the words before. When you hear the words out loud, they take on a different life. Of course, this is also a way to find any inadvertent typos.

4 things to avoid:
1 - Don't ignore other poets. Read a bunch of them. You won't like some. You'll be turned off by some. You'll wonder if some poets even know what their poem means. But you'll also find words that stick in your brain. You'll find poets who speak directly to your heart. You'll learn new words and new forms. And you may even feel compelled to write a poem in response someone else's poem.

2 - Don't try to sound like anyone but yourself. This doesn't mean everything has to be autobiographical. You can place yourself in whatever character you can think up. But don't try to BE some other particular poet. The world already had a Shakespeare, an Emily Dickinson, a Rudyard Kipling, and a Maya Angelou. Go ahead and play with writing in their style, but don't let admiration become an obsession to BE them. Be yourself.

3 - Don't give up. Some of what you write will be dreck. Some will be trite. Write them anyway and then move on. And don't be afraid to edit: cut, add, rearrange the parts. Let the poem steep in the back of your mind and when you aren't trying so hard, something really cool may come to you.

4 - Don't forget that your reader doesn't know what is in your head until you write it down. Leaving some things up to the reader's interpretation is fine, but if the reader has no idea what ANYTHING means, he or she may give up on your poem. Leave them some clues.

I hope that beginning poets will pick from these meme responses the things that ring true for them and discard what doesn't work. There is nothing like the pleasure of having a completed poem, when you can look at it and say, "I made that!"

Now, who to tag? I guess I'll ask these poets I like to read: Clare at Clare's Sunflower Sky, and Holly Mac at Stuff I Said

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Taylor Street


[ at stoney moss started a new series of posts about place names in which she picks something named after a person or an event, researches it and reports on it. She encourages others to give it a try and let her know what they come up with. Here is my first attempt.]

In the town where I grew up, quite a few of the streets were named after presidents. I grew up on Taylor Street and although I knew Taylor was a president, I was heretofore woefully uninterested in learning anything about him. I have remedied that situation. Here is my reader's digest take on the 12th president of the United States.

Zachary Taylor was a career military man, having spent 40 years in the Army. When he was recruited by the Whig Party as a candidate for President, he had never held public office, nor even voted. Known as "Old Rough and Ready" he became famous for his victories in the Mexican-American War.

Elected to office over Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, and Free Soil Party candidate, Martin Van Buren, he took office in March 1849. He then proceeded to ignore the Whig Party platform and tick off the southern politicians who thought that since Taylor owned slaves, he would always be pro-slavery.

On July 4, 1850, 16 months into his term, President Taylor led ceremonies at the laying of the cornerstone for the Washington Monument. It was hot and humid, and he was very warmly dressed. He fell ill at the event, and never fully recovered. He died on July 9. The cause of his death is listed as Gastroenteritis which may have been caused by cholera or food poisoning. His vice-president, Millard Fillmore became the 13th president of the US.

And as long as we are sharing "fun facts to know and tell" I want to point out that Taylor's 491 days in office was not the shortest time a US President served. No, that dubious distinction goes to William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the US, also a Whig, who took office on March 4, 1841. On that extremely cold and wet day, at the age of 68, he stood without a coat for more than 2 hours reading the longest inaugural address in American history. Harrison then rode in the post-inaugural parade, and subsequently came down with a cold that turned into pneumonia. He died on April 4, just 31 days after taking office.

Chair Lift


[a poem inspired by the Totally Optional Prompt, "Places"]

Chair Lift

Pines wear white caps,
and snowy stoles draped on branches,
while naked maple limbs
sparkle with icy glitter.
The light is dazzling
through my dark goggles.
Even the cold air I breathe
is bright with inner radiance,
filling me with buoyancy.

My first ride up
is rarely like that,
my muscles stiff,
full of kinks and crankiness
lodged in my corners
after a night spent
in a borrowed bed,
and the oh-so-possible
of being the slowest one
in the group.

But the next ride up,
having outpaced doubt,
and run off the rust,
with endorphins pumping
me full of ease,
could last twice as long
and maybe it does.
My shoulders and brain relax
even as I pull
the turtle-fur over my nose
and zip up the crackling parka,
much louder in the deep cold,
than on a milder day.

I float up the mountain
weightless as a paper airplane,
suspended above scratchy skis
on icy slopes,
my office-bound eyes freed
to drink in this mountain
and the next one over.
I sit in the moment
and delight
in a fine excuse
to spend the whole day

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

OULIPO at last


On November 5, Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect gave us the weekly Monday Poetry Stretch. That week's challenge was for us to investigate and try out OULIPO forms. Check out Tricia's post for some links to various (and better) explanations.

In a nutshell, a bunch of writers and mathematicians started creating constraints for poetry-writing. More constraints are invented all the time. One constraint was is to exclude one or more letters; another is to substitute each noun in your poem with the noun 7 nouns away in your dictionary.

I braved the official OULIPO site (with the help of a translation tool, since I don't speak French) and discovered a constraint that translates as Monovocolism. To use this constraint, make sure every vowel in your poem is the same.

So here is my poem, created using the Monovocolism constraint. And a big thanks to Tricia for introducing me to all this. I don't think I'll be using it all the time, but the constraints definitely made me think more about my word choices, and noticing things like vowels may carry over to future poems.


weep wetness knee-deep

shelve the nerves
feed me legends
mend the tremble
reject the wretchedness

never meek
next get reckless
the new needs

emerge free
the best
the best me
ever edgeless

remember the emblem
breeze-bent elm tree
never kneel

the perfect defense

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Left and Right


[evoked by the Sunday Scribblings prompt, "Left & RIght"]

I learned not to be afraid of hand tools when I was a kid. Early on we were introduced to:
  • brooms (push broom for the back porch/deck, and a regular broom for inside and the front walk),
  • rakes with which to wrangle fallen leaves,
  • a dandelion digger, because Mom didn't like those yellow weeds in her lawn,
  • sledge hammer to pound in garden stakes,
  • hoes and trowels, to help Daddy in the garden,
  • small knives used to trim radishes from that garden
R taught me to "saw to a line" using a big saw and the hand-crankled vise in his garage.

I knew how to hold a hammer. I knew the difference between a crescent wrench and a monkey wrench, and I knew the difference between a flat-head and a phillips-head screw.

So I don't know how it was that I came to be 22 years old before I learned "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey."

Now for the two people in the world who have no idea what that means (humor me, I'd like to assume I'm not THE last one in the world!) this is how some of us remember to turn the screwdriver (or wrench, or pliers) to the right to tighten a screw (or bolt or nut), and to the left to loosen it.

Since this phrase has entered my head, it is now stuck there. Fortunately, since it is so useful, I don't mind too much, even though it makes people laugh when it spills out of my mouth when I'm in the midst of some tool-heavy project.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ocean Storm


Ocean Storm

I was an inland girl,
only pretending to be coastal,
while my parents vacationed
on the coast.

Now an adult transplanted
to the eastern shore
I had little experience
with ocean things.

A storm just off Africa
became more of itself,
earned a name,
and crossed the Atlantic.

We listened to it come north,
following it on the radio
in our vacation house,
until we knew
we were in its path.

In the little cabin on the rocks,
we watched the sky go grey,
and the winds start,
and the neighbors pack and leave.

The radio reported
both the path of Hurricane Bob,
and the coup attempt
on Mikhail Gorbachev.

The clouds brought rain,
and crashing swells fell
ever higher on the rocks
with each passing hour.
We ate foods that wouldn't keep
once the power went out
as we knew it would.

The rain got heavier
and the wind picked up,
not just blowing, but pounding
against the tall windows
that faced the sea.

When the firefighters came
to ask us to leave,
to take shelter away from the shore,
it was already too late to go.
With limbs crashing to roads
and power lines down
it was safer to stay put.
One tried to argue,
but the other agreed with us.

And the wind kept hammering,
flexing the large windows
in their frames,
rattling everything
and us.

We took a radio and batteries,
canned food and water,
and went next door
to the old neighbor who hadn't left,
whose house was set
a little farther back,
and whose windows were smaller.

The six of us,
and three dogs and two cats,
breathed so much moisture into
the already-soaked air
that we had to keep wiping
the steam from the window
in order to see the waves crash.

The wind howled.
The surf surged.
The power of the storm
caused us to rethink
the meaning of the word

As the radio reported damages
we passed the time with stories
of other storms and adventures,
always with one eye
to the edge of the ocean
as it climbed upward
toward the small house.

Hours later Bob moved on
and the furious ocean
calmed as flat as a pond.
The storm-scrubbed air was so clear
we had to look on a map
to identify beacons
from lighthouses far, far away.

[This mostly-true story poem is my submission for this week's Totally Options Prompt, "evocative poetry." I had a lot of trouble because although a fair number of my poems tend toward the evocative, I got stumped when I tried to start with the emotion I wanted to evoke. In the end, I gave up because starting with naming the emotion just wasn't working for me. I'll have to figure out why later.]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Grammar on a Bun


[a memory evoked by the Writer's Island prompt, "unforgettable"]

In the 1970's McDonald's introduced a new ad campaign and soon nearly everyone in my school could recite: "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun." A year or so later, my 8th grade English teacher asked my class to prove it. As one, we chanted the slogan.

"Did you know," he asked us, "that there are the same number of ingredients in that phrase as there are parts of speech? If you have learned that, then you can learn the parts of speech in the English language."

I expect a lot of people who learned the parts of speech had to read them in a list like this:

But my teacher taught us this way:
"Two all noun-verbs, special pronoun, adjective, adverb, conjunction, interjection, on a preposition bun."

And within two days, we all had it. We had learned the parts of speech. And I've never forgotten them, although I also can't list them without doing it in the form of the advertising jingle.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Muse Flash


[a poem inspired by the Can You Picture That prompt of Cafe Writing's November Project]

Muse Flash

Blank sheet before me,
My pen poised to write,
I call for my muse
to come join me tonight.

Without inspiration
my mind is a blank,
I think of the shopping,
the trip to the bank,

all the dishes not done,
and the laundry to fold.
If I don't get a grip
I will find I've grown old

before ink touches paper.
Perhaps if I light
a flickering candle
to temper the flight

of my thoughts and ideas.
OK, girl, settle down.
Remember to write
with a smile not a frown.

There is something inside
that you wanted to say.
Sit down, and relax
(and it can't hurt to pray.)

My wheels are done spinning
and I've no more excuses.
I scribble in hopes
that my creative juices

will kick in at last
and my pen it will speed,
and create a new piece.
Ah! my muse did succeed.

Friday, November 02, 2007



[memories evoked by the Sunday Scribblings prompt money]

My dad kept things. Some things he kept "just in case" like rubber bands or twist ties from bread wrappers. He held onto a skillet he liked even though it was warped with a loose handle and we had bought a replacement.

Other things he collected because he had a plan for them. He wanted to make trivets or bulletin boards from wine bottle corks. He saved the metal from the top of the wine bottles (before they used plastic) to make a top out of. I don't know why he wanted a top, but he loved telling my brother and me how to make something using the lost-wax method.

He absorbed knowledge and collected books - there was no such thing as too many books for him. (I'm like him that way.) He collected seeds, leftovers from his gardening. He swapped some with other gardeners. He had a stamp collection, and although he was never able to interest us kids in it, I did learn how to carefully soak a stamp off an envelope.

But my dad's biggest collection, the one he spent the most time on, was his coin collection. I don't know when he started collecting coins. I do know that when he started, he realized that there were so many coins in the world, that he needed to focus on one thing. He decided to collect coins with ships on them.

By the time I was old enough to understand, my dad had coins with ships on them from all over the world, and from all time periods. And he had some that didn't have ships on them, ones he had come across and liked for one reason or another. There was a shelf in our library at home that was lined with copies of The Numismatist, a monthly publication filled with pictures of coins. My dad had stacks of little plastic envelopes to hold the coins, designed so that you could see both sides: the obverse and the reverse.

Most of the coins were kept locked away, though some were in albums in the library. But they were heavy and inconvenient to look at. My mom encouraged my dad to pick out his favorites and frame them. He ended up with a picture frame about 18" x 24" in which he had rows and columns with his favorite "ship" coins. It hung in their bedroom.

My mom and I each ended up with a necklace with a gold coin as a pendant and a bracelet with several gold coins on them. When I first got the bracelet, it had one gold coin on it. I got one additional coin for it each year until it had a total of 5 coins. I love that he selected each coin and fit each into a bezel, and that he carefully re-arranged where the coins hung on the bracelet so that they would be evenly spaced.

When my parents got ready to move to their retirement house, they sold nearly all of the collection to a dealer. I don't know the details, but I believe they got a fair price and the buyer seemed genuinely happy to have them. Now, the only coins left are the framed favorites, a handful of old English half-pennies, and the jewelry my mom and I have. But it makes me smile thinking of the pleasure the collection gave him.