Monday, December 31, 2007

An Artist


[Sunday Scribblings prompted us to write about Now & Then. I started thinking about "then" and never got any farther than that.]

I'm an Artist

My dad retired and took up art.
He studied at college, to allay his fears
that what he'd create would trigger jeers,
but discovered an artist within his heart.
This doctor knew that he was smart
yet thought perhaps advancing years
would inhibit a sudden change of careers,
and make him seem an odd old fart.
Dad found a love in working clay,
and marveled that this simple act
creating art meant he could claim,
"I'm an artist," and others said, "OK."
For years of work, and that’s a fact,
were needed to acquire his "doctor" name.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Birth Limerick


[Mad Kane's latest Limerick and Haiku prompt is to write about wine & spirits or the new year (or both). I decided to write about, well, I'll give you the limerick first and then the story.]

Upon feeling the first labor pain
she drove 70 miles, quite insane!
But the birth was okay
and so later that day
they rejoiced with a glass of champagne.

I am told that when I was in the womb,the umbilical chord was wrapped around my neck. The doctors wanted my mom to go to a hospital where there would be specialists on hand. When my mom went into labor, she got behind the wheel of the car and drove my dad 70 miles to the hospital in the nearest big city.

Meanwhile, I got things untangled and there were no problems. I was born early the next morning. Later, my dad did bring in a bottle of champagne to help with the celebration.

Or that's what I remember being told...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Tidal Island


[Mike at Totally Optional Prompts this week spoke of an island that wasn't an island anymore and it got me thinking about this place. See what other folks came up with here.]

[Image from Wikimedia Commons. Listed in the public domain in USA.]

Tidal Island

Off Normandy's coast,
rising out of the sea,
the small granite island
stood proud as could be.

At low tide a land bridge
gave access and then
high tide turned it back
to an island again.

The archangel Michael,
had the bishop erect
a church on the top.
And later to protect

it came fortifications
and the pilgrims arrived,
then tourists clogged streets
'til they buzzed like a hive.

And to feed all the tourists
the locals raise sheep,
which in turn have to eat
and their food is not cheap.

They graze in the fields
now reclaimed from the ocean,
While a causeway reduces
the sea's tidal motion.

New fields and the causeway,
and canal in the river,
keep the tides from their job
washing silt from the sliver

of land-bridge until
the mud is all gathered
surrounding the island -
not the water we'd rather.

With silt filling in
the isle loses some magic,
but the great gothic beauty
cannot be called tragic.

Removing the causeway,
say some, will restore
the tide's power to scour
deposits once more.

Or build a new dam to
move silt from the base
and bring back the site
to its previous grace.

The strong granite island,
surrounded by wet,
was a popular place but
a bit hard to get

to and so people carved
out the land from the seas
in order to travel with
much-improved ease.

Yet changes they made
took away from the charm,
and much thought must be spent
to unravel that harm.

As for me, years ago,
I fell under the spell
of the bustling but magical
Mont Saint-Michel.

[For more info on Mont Saint-Michel the Wikipedia entry is a find place to start. Check out the links at the bottom of that entry for more.]

Monday, December 24, 2007

Poem Collaboration - AE's Take


This week Read Write Poem challenged us to work with another poet, to collaborate in one way or another. The last time I jointly wrote a poem I was 11 years old (two of them, I believe), so this was definitely a change of pace.

I worked with Linda who came up with a suggestion of a jumping-off place - looking up our horoscopes that day to use as the first and last line of the poem. And then we dove in, alternating stanzas, sending the poem back and forth via e-mail. We then finished up with a little polish to take care of a couple word choices and checking tenses.

When I usually write a poem, it is with a single vision (either mine or the muse's) and the idea has usually been rattling around in the back of my head long enough that it is just a matter of picking the words I need to convey the thought and/or stay in the form.

With two of us working on the poem, there had to be a lot of trust - I think Linda called it "trust the poem." I tried to place myself in the environment of the poem and make sure my line somehow both connected to what Linda's previous line had said, yet still move the poem forward. And I felt an obligation to make sure I wasn't slacking off - I had a responsibility to the assignment so even when I need something to "percolate" I tried to not put it off too long.

I am completely certain that what we created together is something that neither of us would have created on her own. I am pleased that it doesn't sound like two completely different voices alternating (although doing that on purpose would be interesting too - a project for another day).

Here's our result:

Come Clean

"If a partner can't get revved up today,
encourage them to pick up the pace."

I vacuum, and do the laundry
while you sit in your La Z Boy.

Steadily working through the mundane
chores, with an inner eye focused
beyond the immediate goal,

beyond the dust of resentment
no Pledge could ever remove.

With rag, and sponge, and spout,
each wipe, each scour, each rinse
pushes away the stain.

You sigh
when I ask you to move
so I can wash the hard-
wood floor behind your chair,
annoyed that you will miss
part of the war
you are watching
on the History channel.

Are we
doomed to repeat
our unlearned personal histories?

I could complain,
throw a fit;
I could walk out the door
and leave you behind
or I could sit down
and watch TV with you.

I breathe in
the air of here and now,
then exhale my baggage,

put the cleaning supplies away,
bring out the bourbon,
and ask you to join me
on the couch
to watch Jeopardy!

"The best connections are built in the brain.
Only an intellectual connection works."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Box of Cards


[This week's prompt at Weekend Wordsmith is Box. I found my thoughts moving to a particular box in my desk drawer.]

The Box of Cards

I bought the box of folded cards
to amuse my dad,
eight small notes, each
with a photograph of New York
City in the 1935 and 1936,
the same time he was a senior
in college there.

I wrote a quick message
now and then, to let him know
I was thinking about him
from a distance.

I used large letters
since his eyesight
wasn't what it had been.

I kept the messages light,
no current events,
because I wasn't sure
if he was reading the newspaper,
now that he was in the nursing home.

I have two cards left
in that small box,
two notes I will now send
to someone else.

Children's Midnight Service


[Sunday Scribblings prompts us to write about Holiday Memories this week. My family grew up celebrating both Christian and Jewish holidays - this particular memory is about a Christmas celebration.]

Once upon a time, the Presbyterian Church in my hometown held an annual midnight service on Christmas Eve. The junior choir and other children played a big part in the service, which changed from year to year. When I was 5 years old, I had learned and then sang "Away in a Manger" at that service, standing at the edge of what I always thought of as the "stage" in the sanctuary of the old church.

That church building was one of the oldest buildings in town, and sometime before I was 9 a new Presbyterian Church building was erected and the congregation moved in. The new church sat uphill from the road and had a curved driveway. For the midnight service, teams of hard-working people made and set out flickering candle luminaries to line the driveway and parking lots and walkways. It was gorgeous and magical.

The sanctuary had an open, wood-lined, curved roof. A very large Christmas tree filled the space behind the altar. It had simple decorations and some white lights on it. It went up after Thanksgiving and stayed up through December.

I have always loved singing and I was a member of the junior choir. The year I was 10 a few other people in the junior choir were also my age - no one was older. One classmate was Tall M and another was MM. There were younger kids in the choir, including my younger brother who would have been almost 8. Mrs. R, mother of Tall M, was the choir director and pianist.

For weeks and weeks, we had been working on music for the service. In fact, other than the choir director, the whole thing was do be done by the kids. The minister would introduce us then he would sit with the congregation. MM was to be the narrator - the story told by him and also through songs the junior choir would sing. MM was very nervous, but we knew he would be OK. The choir would sit in three pews across the front, where the altar normally was. MM would speak from the pulpit (stage right), and Mrs. R would be at the piano (down stage left).

Now my mom is queen of common sense. She insisted that after we ate dinner on Christmas Eve, that we go to bed and take a nap. She later woke us and got us dressed in our holiday finery (a velvet dress for me that year) and got us to the church in plenty of time for the performance. On top of our holiday clothes, we wore choir robes. We looked great. And if some of the kids were more tired than my brother and me, well, it wasn't something that 10-year-old me would have noticed.

The time came to start and we each held a lit candle in one hand, with the music books we were to use in the other. It isn't a large church, but it was packed full and we were so excited as we sang our way down the aisle to our places down front. The younger kids were toward Mrs. R's end of things and us "older" kids were further away. I was right next to Tall M.

The service began, MM narrating the story from the pulpit. We blew out our candles and put them down at our feet and opened our music books. We sang our little hearts out and were having the time of our lives. Well, MM was probably still a bit nervous.

Then something unexpected happened. Instead of starting the next song, Mrs. R held out her hand to my younger brother and he went to her. She then rose from the piano bench and led my brother toward the back of the church along the far aisle. My mom met her part way, and Mom tells me that Mrs. R whispered, "He's sick." Mom led my brother out of the sanctuary to the nearest bathroom (which happened to be the men's room) so that he could throw up there. Mrs. R returned to the piano and we continued with the program.

I think we sang one more song, and had started the next, when suddenly Tall M sat down very hard in the pew next to me. Before I could react, the pew tipped over backwards from his weight and as he rolled a bit Tall M shook the huge Christmas tree we'd been seated in front of. As the tree swayed, my dad, who was a doctor, came to the front to check on Tall M. Mrs. R, very pale by now, motioned us all to sit, and those of us in the middle righted the pew Tall M had knocked over (since he was now lying on the floor behind us).

Turns out Tall M had just fainted. Two pieces of good news - he wasn't hurt and the Christmas tree didn't fall over.

So there mom is, in the men's room, caring for my younger brother. She's cleaning him up when she hears the door open. Mom spoke to make sure the fellow knew she was in there with her son. The man who came in told her that was OK, he was just there to get a wet cloth for the kid who had just passed out!

I have heard the term "dropping like flies" used to describe this point in the evening, but to tell the truth, the excitement was, by then, all over.

The rest of the service was finished with all of us except MM seated. I believe that both my younger brother and Tall M joined us by the end. We were not allowed to relight our candles (someone deciding that we just shouldn’t risk it), and the evening finished a success.

But for many, many years thereafter, the children's performances on Christmas Eve at that church were held much, much earlier in the evening. Midnight services were reserved for adults only. It might even be that way to this day.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Fill-In 51


[See more Friday Fill-Ins for this week here.]

1. Snow is nice, but could it stop for just a day or two, so I can try to catch up?
2. I'm looking forward to the two four-day weekends coming up.
3. Soaking in a hot bath is the best way to relax ever!

4. One of my favorite old tv shows is The Dick Van Dyke Show.

5. I'm done with singing with my chorus until January.

6. The most enjoyable thing around the holidays is making time to cook.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to starting one of those aforementioned 4-day weekends, tomorrow my plans include sleeping late and Sunday, I want to goof off and then do some late Christmas shopping!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Two-Fer


[Totally Optional Prompts this week gave us a "Road Sign Redux" in which we were told of a very lonely stretch of highway where a road sign instructs, "Keep Right Except to Pass." I found my brain pondering some things. Two led to the poems here. By the way - I'm not really looking for answers on that first one.]

Well, Do You?

When there are no other cars on the roads,
at two in the morning in a sleepy neighborhood,
do you come to a complete stop
behind the stop line?

If you live alone,
or if your spouse is out of town on business,
do you ever eat directly out of the carton?

If everyone else is asleep,
in another part of the house,
do you say "excuse me" when you burp?

When there is no one else in the house,
and you know you are alone for the entire day,
do you always close the door of the bathroom?


Time was, we only bought things we knew
how to use, like saws, or fabric, or straw.
And if we didn't know how to use it, we asked
my dad, or your aunt, or the storekeeper.

And being human, we complicated things enough
that we needed instructions, a piece of paper
explaining how to use the widget, or the gizmo.
We read and saved the little piece of paper
in case we ever forgot.

And then because no one ever told us
that it was a bad idea to take a bath with
electrical equipment, and because
someone did, the little piece of paper grew
into a booklet, making sure we knew not to
use the hairdryer in the shower, and to
unplug the waffle iron when we are done.

And now, there are pages and pages
of instructions telling me what NOT to
DO with my item. Not to pour water into
a laser printer. Not to bite electrical cords
with bare teeth. Not to juggle chain saws,
if they are running and if I don't have on
my safety goggles.

And just in case, the pages come
in at least four languages. If we are lucky
we understand one of them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Train Ride


[Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect gave us a Monday Poetry Stretch to include these words in a poem: snow, frozen, wind, evening, woods, lake, village, farmhouse. Here is my effort.]

Train Ride

This evening the train carried passengers from the village toward the city,
past the quaint farmhouse, decorated for Christmas and
beyond the woods, dark but with snow sparkling on the braches nearest the tracks
and then it whistled into the cold wind as it rounded the curve next to the frozen lake.
We grinned and were so glad the model train was set up in the basement this year.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Onward for Read Write Poem


[This week Read Write Poem prompted us to choose a book that called to us, collect the final noun or verb from several chapters and compose a 10-20 line poem using those words. I'll tell you more about my words and their origin after the poem. Check out the poems from others this week here.]


A clock ticks ever forward,
the road brings us ever to what will be,
not to what was.
We come to see:
houses become homes with the love inside;
children grow into parents themselves;
people embrace the nerve to make horrors disappear;
beleaguering disgust may be drown by the cleansing water of tears.
A clock ticks ever forward,
the road brings us ever to what will be,
not to what was.

[My words were from the ends of the all the chapters in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. The words were: road, see, clock, parents, water, disgust, children, horrors, nerve, disappeared, was, home house beleaguering, drown, come. I think I tried to stay away from using the words with the weight of their meaning in the novel. If I had, I think the poem would have been very dark. It was kind of hard not to spiral downward on this - some of the words could easily send me there.]

Sunday, December 16, 2007



[Mad Kane has started a Limerick and Haiku Prompt, this week it is "Multitasking."]

I've done quite a bit of multitasking at work, especially in the last few years. My last two job titles inspired the haikus. Then there's a limerick I wish were true!

I.T. Analyst -
job title that covers a
multitude of sins.

To manage means that
I spend my time meeting but
not getting work done.

When it seems that each voice-mail's a gripe
and in e-mail most messages snipe,
when each schmo without spine
fills my in-tray with whine
I know how to trash all with one swipe.



[Weekend Wordsmith prompted us to write about Clouds this week.]


sometimes a cloud is just a cloud,
white against a bright blue sky, maybe stretched so thin you can
see right through it, or maybe piled onto itself in a fat bunch that dares you
to discover the elephant at the dinner table or the turtle on a surfboard.

but sometimes a cloud is an omen,
dark against a steel-grey sky as the wind picks up,
pouring the darkness across the world, in preparation for the sky to turn
yellow, then green as the temperature drops and small raindrops fuse
into each other becoming painful pellets that don't hurt as much
as the hailstones that follow, stripping leaves from trees and
denting the cars and our potted cactus.

Dancing and Dirndls


[Sunday Scribblings prompted us to write about "dance."]

My dad was a great dancer. I don't mean that he was paid to dance or that it was his profession or anything. No, I just mean that he was a really good dancer. I don't remember where he told me he learned to dance, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was at an Arthur Murray dance studio back when he lived in New York City.

I remember my dad and my mom getting dressed up to go out. I think the local Moose Club held dances back then. And occasionally someone rented the American Legion building for a dinner-dance.

My dad taught me how to dance. He first taught me the box step. Right-together, back-together, left-together, front-together. Eventually my feet remembered what to do without me watching them.

When I was tall enough that he didn’t have to bend over to dance with me, I learned to waltz. Not only did I learn to dance, I learned to follow. Dancing with my dad was so easy because he knew how to lead. His hand on my waist pulled me toward him, or didn't. As long as I stayed light on my feet, relaxed, he could subtly push-pull me with him until dancing was like floating across the floor.

We didn't have any special times we would dance. There was the occasional wedding, mostly. And then there was the Altamont Schuetzenfest. It was German culture festival held each fall in the next county over. My dad and brother wore leather lederhosen and my mom and I wore dirndls. There were brats to eat, and the grown-ups drank beer from small commemorative buckets.

And there was dancing. Polka dancing. A live band played polka music for hours, and I got to take my turn on the dance floor. With a big place like that, we could really fly. I loved it. Doing the polka was like skipping - it felt like I spent more time in the air than on my feet. I think I could polka with my brother or with some of the family friends, but it was best with my dad.

Thursday, December 13, 2007



[Totally Optional Prompts suggested we write about "birds and bonds" this week.]


Swans mate for life, they tell me,
so when I see a single swan,
swimming on the nearby pond,
should I think he hasn't met his match?, or be
sad that he has lost his
soulmate? Or I could
surmise that his mate is out for an afternoon of
shopping with the girls.

One More Thing


[Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect proposed we write a holiday poem for this week's Monday Holiday Stretch. With all I have going on, this is a raw bit of what's running through my head. I am looking forward to this week being over, because after Saturday, I have more time that is mine headed my way.]

Modern December Taffy-Pull

Like an old-time taffy-pull,
I am stretched in different directions,
first to work - in spite of the impending snow storm.
After all, I can't miss the annual holiday party.
I am then pulled to preparation for
my choir's concert at the mall on Saturday,
when I should be listening to
the pull of my bed because I'm not really
over this cold yet.
I'm pulled to my housekeeping responsibilities
and I hear the pull
of my duty to my family to phone my mother,
my obligation to keep the walk free from snow and ice
so that the mail carrier can bring
the bills I am responsible for paying.
When hot taffy is pulled,
it cools and changes color.
What color will I be,
when I'm done being stretched?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Moment of Truth on the Mountain


[memories evoked by the Writer's Island prompt, "the moment"]

I don't remember not knowing how to ski. Snow ski, that is. I grew up in the flatness of southern Illinois, yet my parents took us to Colorado each winter and put us on skis about as soon as we could walk. Our vacations were two weeks long, at most. By the time my brother and I were in school, we were down to one week. By the time I was in college, we did only long weekend trips (Thursday through Sunday, with some of that time spent in airports and airplanes). Eventually I was pretty good, especially for a "flatlander".

Then after college, I was on my own and didn't make enough time (or money to begin with) to go skiing. I didn't ski for something like 15 years.

Then a friend convinced me to try it again. I went and bought some ski boots (yes I know they rent such things, but I have a hard foot to fit and I knew that if the boot wasn't comfortable I wouldn't last an hour on the slopes). I bought some cheap ski pants and I borrowed a parka. I dug out old gloves.

I went up to New Hampshire for the weekend. I waited for the kind people in the ski rental place to fit the bindings to my boots and get me the right size poles. I bought my lift ticket and went to meet the group of friends who were ready to re-introduce me to downhill skiing.

Putting the skis on was familiar. I remembered how to move around on them, and got in line for the lift. I remembered how to get on the lift without falling and I even remembered how to hold my poles (and not drop by gloves when I needed a tissue).

It was a gorgeous, cold but sunny day. The scenery on the way up was fantastic, but I do believe my heart was racing just a little. Why wasn't I on a bunny hill? Had I forgotten that it had been 15 years since I was last on skis? Not to mention my weight was about 100 pounds more than when I last skied. Oh yeah, and all these people with me were 10 years younger than I was!

Denying my inner turmoil, I unloaded at the top without disgracing myself and I managed to pull up to my new ski-buddies without knocking anyone over. The first challenge was a cat trail across the mountain. I started down, trying out my legs and the new skis. These things are not the long boards I used to wear. No these are "shaped skis," shorter and with narrower waists that make the skis easier to turn than in the "old days." I tried shifting my weight from one to another to see them curve a bit. So far, so good.

The general traffic had thinned out and the cat trail opened up at the top of two trails. I stop in between the two options to get the lay of the land. My group was lining up at the top of the far trail. Well-trained, I didn't want to try to stop at the up-mountain end of the line, just in case I fell. Instead, I planned to ski above the group, then turn to the left (behind them) and come to rest at the bottom of the line-up.

I push off and head across the mountain. I pass the group and shift my weight for my first non-snowplow turn in 15 years, and I immediately eat snow. My friend comes over, concern in his eyes, to find me laughing. I think I said, "Well, now that I've got that out of my system…." He was delighted to find me in good spirits, but I think he may have been worried about the rest of the trip down. It was an easy trail, but it was over 2-1/2 miles long.

I got up, dusted off, and reattached the ski I had knocked off when I ran through some thicker snow I hadn't noticed from across the slope. I took my place in line and knocked the snow out of my goggles. And from the collar of my parka.

Did I mention it was a beautiful day? We were at Wildcat mountain and from the top you can see Mount Washington. It was big and beautiful. And then it was my turn to follow and somehow, my muscles remember what to do. They complain about doing it, but they are holding me up, and I'm making curves. At the next place we stop, I even remember how to do a hockey-stop. It was a moment of triumph.

In an effort to provide full disclosure, I need to say that my start-things-off fall was not the last fall of the day. I got tired. I got thirsty. I eventually decided that I needed Advil to keep skiing. Later I discovered that an Advil BEFORE I started the day was even better, followed by one at lunch and another when I came in around 4 for cocoa. Or cocoa spiked with something.

I think that was in 1999 and for several years, I skied a little each year. I haven't gone in a couple of years, but I expect to be back at it, if not this year, then next year. I am glad that my moment of truth was a success.

Monday, December 10, 2007

7 Traditions for Cafe Writing December Project


[This list was written for Cafe Writing's December Project.]

List seven traditions - big or small - that you and your family observe.

1) Potato Latkes and Pork Chops
When Chanukah comes around, that lovely holiday where it is tradition to eat fried foods, at least once during the 8 days we make potato latkes (potato pancakes). I love our homemade applesauce with them. I grew up in a part of the country where a lot of people raised hogs and I had only one Jewish parent. I, too, have a mixed marriage (and I don't keep kosher). We almost always have pork with our potato latkes. Applesauce goes with pork, too.

2) Unwrapping Christmas Presents
When we open Christmas presents at my in-laws' place, everyone takes turns unwrapping presents, one package for one person, then one package by another person, and so on. It can take hours! Especially if there are a lot of clothes, because we pause for the recipient to try on each new garment.

3) Pizza for New Year's Eve
My wife makes homemade pizza dough and we put our own toppings on pizzas to have on New Year's Eve. Some years we have champagne, other years, we stick to soda.

4) Our Own Haggadah for Passover
Years ago I wrote my own haggadah for Passover (this is the book that guides you through the evening of ceremony and prayers for the first two nights of Passover). We continue to use it (or versions of it) every year.

5) Summer Vacation
We spend our summer vacation in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York nearly every year. On the night we get home, we go out to dinner (especially good since there's nothing in the refrigerator since we've been away for 2 weeks).

6) Grilled Pizza
During each year's summer vacation we have personal-sized grilled pizzas one night - homemade dough, lightly cooked on one side, even lighter on the second side, favorite toppings go on the more-cooked side, then back on the grill to finish the second side and melt the cheese. Yum!

7) Lobster for Me
My wife takes me out to have lobster for my birthday every year. She doesn't eat lobster, but she says she gets a kick out of seeing me eat the thing (making a big mess as I do it).

I guess a lot of our traditions have food involved!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Museum Marble


[a poem inspired by the Can You Picture That prompt at Cafe Writing's December Project. This photograph was provided by Carmi Levy of Written, Inc.]

Museum Marble

Those crafty artists
used paint and glaze and plastic bags and sea sponges
and a feather
to make the wooden door frames blend in with the real marble
so that as you move from one room of
the museum
to the next, you only know which is which if you touch it.
If it feels cool, it is the real thing.
And if it doesn't feel cool to the touch you have just gotten away with
putting your bare fingers on a piece of artwork.



[This week at Read Write Poem we were challenged to "change up your line length." While I write a lot of poems with short lines, I was not "feeling" a long-line poem. My free verse tends to be so conversational that without the shorter lines, all I seemed to have are paragraphs, not stanzas. I realized, though that I break lines where I want a pause, so for a challenge, I decided to write a poem with a shape to it, where the line breaks are based on the visual and not as a cue for the reader. I'm hoping this is conveyed as I want it on the web.]



I note the crisp

cap and precise
hair and confident

look of the soldier as
she stands with arm up
in a salute. She exudes honor
as she awaits a return salute. I am
sure there is a code, a rule that says

how long she must stand there
waiting, but I do not know
what it is. I was once urged
to apply to West Point,
but I knew I would not
make a good soldier,
not if it meant that I
had to toe the line,
to hold my tongue,
stem the endless
flow of questions I
knew I would have.

Battling Nature


[some thoughts evoked by the Sunday Scribblings prompt "competition"]

I don't have killer instinct. Well, I always wanted to beat my younger brother at board games. And I refused to lose on purpose to ANYONE, even when my mother implied that might be a nice thing to do when I was teaching my high school boyfriend to play backgammon.

But I always gained more pleasure from playing a game than from winning one. I was only OK at sports. In individual sports, I just didn't care enough, couldn't whip myself into making it more important for me to win than to just be done with the tennis game or the 800-yard track event. It was easier to make winning important when I played on the volleyball team, because to mess up or give up was to let down my fellow teammates. But winning wasn't important enough for me to work at the drills that would have made winning come just that much easier.

Then every once in a while, every so many years, I get the desire to kill something. Something in particular. I want to wipe it from the face of the earth. So I suit up to do battle.

Behind the house is a small flat area then a drop-off into the woods. The line between "yard" and "wild" back there gets more blurry every year. We let the ferns come up, and they are pretty and sturdy and grow where grass wouldn't take anyway. The are some wildflowers that have crept in there too, and that's OK with me.

And then there is The Vine. I don't know what this thing is, but it is killer. Literally. It winds itself around bushes and trees and then it squeezes and before you know it, the bush is dead and the tree has a dead limb. It grabbed hold of a small tree (a weed tree, granted, but still!) and pulled it over so hard that it finally snapped. This thing is evil.

Eventually I can no longer ignore it trying to tear down the trees that anchor the hill sloping down into the woods and throw down the gauntlet. Well, actually, I put on heavy jeans and sturdy boots and a long-sleeved top, and I put on my gauntlets (in the guise of leather work gloves). I take with me clippers and a folding pruning saw and I head into the lair of the beast.

I start by unwinding anything I can from the trees, bushes and fencing at the edge of the yard. Then I cut off and unwind more. And more. And what I cut goes into a trash barrel. I am afraid to leave it on the ground – afraid it is descended from the Hydra and will re-grow vines from every cut. Even when I had a compost pile I was afraid that it wouldn't rot there and would instead spring ever more robust from the nutrients there.

And then I step over the edge. With feet anchored as best as I can, I start pulling on the nearest piece of vine. It has roots all along its edge and as I pull, other trees and bushes in the area shake as the vine's more remote tendrils hold tight to its hostages. I use the clippers again and again, and I wonder again where this beast came from.

By now I usually need a break, a drink of water, a wipe of the face. Then I dive in again, by now giving up on the cut-and-bag technique and throwing the pieces further down the hill, possibly giving the evil vine more places to sprout, root, and anchor. More places from which to stage its takeover of the world.

I work my way along the hillside, parallel to the house, trying to draw a line, establish some boundaries. I wear myself out, and eventually, I pack it in for the day, the edge of the yard cleared, the closest trees freed. But as I look down the hill, I see the vine in a heavy curtain from the large oak tree down the slope, some of the tendrils as thick around as a wrist. I think that it probably holds onto that tree so tightly that I could climb up, as the prince scaled the tower using Rapunzel's hair. But that is 20 yards down the hill, and there is a lot more vine between it and me and I am worn out.

I sigh, and go clean my clippers. I drag the vine clippings to the garage to await trash pickup day. And with that my killer instinct is gone. I am defeated – for today, anyway.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bumpy Road Ahead


[This week Totally Optional Prompts encouraged us with "Road Sign". I knew at once that I'd have something light to offer about this topic. It is possible I may have some other road sign poetry in me, but this one wanted to be first.]

Bumpy Road Ahead

When riding in my parents' car
we'd read road signs for fun.
Familiar notes were often seen,
like "Bump" -- a common one.

A variation, "Speed Bump" was
another common sight
in parking lots and alleys where
the space was very tight.

Vacation driving brought a lot
of new signs we could read.
We came across a "Speed Hump"
as another of that breed.

Another posted warning of that
type we'd sometimes see
was sign that read just "Dip" and made
us giggle and tee-hee.

The "Dip" did double-duty warning
both about the road,
and the idiots upon it, with the
title it bestowed.

But best was when we found among
New England's autumn leaves
a post to warn us travelers of
what here they call "Frost Heaves."

[And I have to admit that I still have to think whether to read the "heaves" as noun or verb. For those who grew up thinking this sign is normal, I apologize, but I'm not going to stop giggling.]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Questions to a Promise


[Writers Island this week prompts us to write about "the promise" and that gave rise to this.]

Questions to a Promise

On her deathbed my great-grandmother asked
my great-grandfather not to remarry.

He promised. And he kept that promise.

Did it matter?

How would my grandmother have been different
if she had been raised by a step-mother
instead of her just-7-years-older sister?

How would my mother have been different
if she had been raised by only her mother,
and not also by her aunt,
who had been mothering since she was 14?

And what would that mean to me?
Would I be the same me
if my great-grandfather
had broken his promise?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Three Things


[This week at Read Write Poem, we were asked to write about 3 pieces and we were encouraged to make them random. I finally pulled three things out of my desk drawer and they sparked this.]

Three Things

Describing myself in a word,
I'd have to say I'm "pragmatic."
I plan ahead and stay calm.
I'm generally not too dramatic.

As a rule I am bad at "romantic;"
with which my wife sadly concurs.
But I am not without some tender feelings --
I'll tell you to what this refers.

I opened my desk drawer this evening,
and pulled out just three of the things
that have been with me ages and ages.
I'll tell you the history each brings.

The newest is also the oldest:
twenty-four colors of wax.
Since I was little I've used them,
when my brain needs to relax.

This is not my original box.
Though its pedigree is just the same.
I've always had crayons on hand,
even when others thought they were lame.

The second of three is a jackknife,
But it isn't too sharp anymore.
My dad gave it to me for camp;
now it sits all the time in my drawer.

Once in the past it was sharp,
through the years, it cut hundreds of things:
carrots and meat and potatoes,
small sticks, bars of soap and some strings.

And once, yes, just once, it cut me,
when I slipped up one camp afternoon.
I had a stitch put in to hold it,
though it got better sooner than soon.

The third of the things from my desk drawer,
is a small, metal box made of tin.
It is only important because
of the things that it holds deep within.

Inside are some small slips of paper
that date from my high school career.
The scraps hold some nice little sayings
that I've held onto over the years.

A teacher in high school had asked us
to write for each other classmate
a complement matched to the person,
one thing about them that's great.

I saved up the whole pile of papers
on which are each class compliment.
Some are much better than others,
some tried only 20 percent.

One tells me that I'm a good listener,
several tell me I'm smart, I confess.
One says that I'm a good actress,
and one says just, "I like your dress."

All these echoes bring smiles to my heart,
the bright crayons, and notes, and camp knife.
They whisper my history to me,
remind me of some of my life.

I try to live life going forward,
with no regrets for "before."
But when I'm nostalgic I simply
pull open my desk's large top drawer.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Halloween Eyes


[Weekend Wordsmith prompted us to write about "eyes" this time.]

In my elementary school, back in the day, we celebrated Halloween. We would bring our costumes to school, and at the lunch break, we'd change into them for the afternoon. Or if we lived close enough to the school to go home at lunch, we could change there, and return to school in costume.

Once we were all back in our rooms after noon recess (and after the costume-donning), we started a parade. The first graders would walk in a line through the room of the 2nd grade, then the 2nd graders would fall in line and, led by the 1st grade, they would walk through the 3rd grade room.

The parade grew, and everyone showed off his or her costume to the older kids, up through the 5th grade. Then we took the show on the road.

The parade led out of the school building and down a short block and a half to a nursing home. We walked through the hallways there, showing off our costumes to the residents, then returning to school (and probably a snack). I don't remember exactly, but I'm guessing there was very little work done on Halloween afternoons.

What does this have to do with eyes? Bear with me; I'm getting there.

When I was in 3rd grade I decided to go home to change into my costume. That way it would be a surprise and I'd make people guess who I was, since none of them would have seen me in the girls room putting it on. I was looking forward to making people guess, and I was covered from head to toe, so the color of my hair would not give me away.

The bell rang and we lined up at the door to the building to go in from recess. I was in the middle of the line and was completely crestfallen when everyone seemed to know who I was? How had they guessed?

My eyes, they told me. I have very, very dark brown eyes, and I hadn't realized what a sea of light brown, hazel, and blue-eyed people I was surrounded by. But I guess my classmates had noticed.

P.S. It took me hours, but I now remember the name of the woman who made the dolls - Mrs. Kolaff. I probably have the spelling wrong, but I'm so pleased this hadn't left my brain entirely!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Walk


[memories evoked by the Sunday Scribblings prompt, "walk."]

The summer I turned 5 years old, my parents and I started something new. A few times a week, and then every day toward the end of the summer, we started walking a particular route.

We went to the corner of our yard and walked past the hedge of our across-the-street neighbor, down Burtschi Street for one block. On the way, we passed a large empty lot on the left. At the end of the block we crossed the street, turned left and crossed again, and walked one more short, small-town block. The end of that block was always darker because there were evergreen trees there and they were quite dense.

At the corner we could see the nursing home (known then as the Hospital Annex") across the street. We turned right and went just a half-block down 8th Street. We looked very, very carefully for cars were on 8th Street. There was a stop sign for those coming from the south, but not from the north. When it was safe to cross, we did.

We walked for two blocks, passing several landmarks. First was the nursing home where Mrs. X lived. I can't remember her name today, but she made the most beautiful, elaborate dresses for dolls. They started out as Barbie dolls, or generic Barbie-type dolls. But they ended up with dresses two feet wide, with lace and sequins, and they always had a hat to match. (I eventually ended up with two of them, one to sit on each of the twin beds in my bedroom - but that was a few years later.)

Right after the nursing home was the two-story house of Mrs. Elizabeth. She had a doll collection that was HUGE. She had hundreds of dolls, and when she put them out in her house to show them off, my mom sometimes took me for a visit. I'm told that Mrs. Elizabeth also made great brownies, cakey with frosting.

Around then the sidewalk took a little more attention because the roots of the large trees on the sides of the road had pushed up the concrete in several places. In the second block, was a house, then a little, tiny store with a tiny parking lot, then another house.

Finally, we again carefully looked for traffic (on 6th Street this time), then crossed the street and turned right. We walked along the front of Lincoln School, down to the far corner where the kindergarten entrance was.

Then we turned around and went home the same way.

By the end of the summer, I was leading the way, and my parents were comfortable that I would be careful and not stray from the designated path.

The first few days, I think my parents (or at least Mom) walked me to school, but I don't remember. I do know that by the second week I was on my own. I was in the morning kindergarten class so I walked to school in the morning and I walked home at lunchtime.

Now just down the street from our house, lived a family with three boys. The middle boy was in my class, and his older brother was a couple of years ahead of us. The younger brother was the same age as my little brother, and so was not in school yet.

I don't remember what I'm about to relate, but this is the story I'm told:

One day the older brother was heading home for lunch and noticed me starting to walk home. He decided that I was too little to be walking by myself. I don't know why he wasn't worried about his little brother, just about me. At any rate, I didn't mind if he walked with me, but we had to go home the way I was supposed to go. When we got to my house, he came to the door with me and told my mom that he thought I was too little to do that myself. I don't know what Mom told him, but I guess it relieved his worries, because I don't think he walked me home again.

I went to Lincoln School for 6 years (kindergarten through 5th grade) and I walked that same route to and from school all that time.