Monday, December 29, 2008

The Sound of Sisterhood


[I didn't make time to write this week, but I did pull out a piece I haven't had on the blog before. Check out what other folks contributed to this week's Monday Poetry Train Revisited.]

The Sound of Sisterhood

I didn't know what I was hearing,
at the time.

My Girl Scout leaders were
confident women teaching us to be
confident girls who would grow into
confident women ourselves.

Another confident woman interviewed me,
a conversation we both enjoyed,
then a female student led the tour
of college buildings named after women.

I arrived on campus, one of 500 women
in all shapes and sizes and colors, and my ears filled with
the alto-soprano sounds of voices in conversation.

We talked. We agreed. We argued.
We listened. We learned.
Women led. Women planned. Women failed.
Women played. Women worked.
Women wrote
and their names were everywhere.

The voices took root in me:
comforting, challenging, compelling.

I didn't know it was the sound of sisterhood until later.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008



[Read Write Poem prompted us this week to "go ancestral." Check out what fell out of people's family trees. The image of Isaac Abrabanel is in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons .]


My father's father came to America as a boy,
his family fleeing pogroms in the Ukraine, sailing
west to Ellis Island where they changed his name.
We weren't Mayflower people – no D.A.R. for us.


My dad said we were related to Abarbanel,
famous pawn-broker to Queen Isabella, whose jewelry
became cash to buy three ships for Columbus,
sending him sailing west across the ocean.

Today I read that Isabella didn't hock her jewels.
She filled an empty bank with the wealth of Jews expelled
by the 1492 Edict she and Ferdinand signed.
Yet Abarbanel did back Columbus and, with other
Jewish bankers, launched him west toward America
from harbors crammed with Jews fleeing for their lives.

Abarbanels and Abravanels and Barbanels
from around the world gathered in 1992,
a family reunion in Queens to honor
Don Isaac Abarbanel. One man's father was from
the Ukraine, so maybe I am related after all
to Abarbanel.

[One note - my grandfather's original last name was not Abarbanel.]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seven Magical Things


Cafe Writing's 2008 Holiday Project asked us to list seven magical things in our world. This is a list of seven from my world.

1. My music folder is open in front of me, as with each of the other singers, all eyes on the director. When her arms move, we sing with one voice, one intent. We trusted each other to start at the same time, stop at the same time, use the same words. That is magic.

2. Once upon a time my mom dressed me to go out in the snow to ski. Over underwear went thin cotton socks and cotton long-johns (tops and bottoms). On top of that went wool socks, then a cotton turtleneck. Next a wool sweater and stretch pants with stirrups under my foot and suspenders over my shoulders fought a vertical tug-of-war to keep the entire length of my legs covered. After that I was finally ready for a coat and hat, plus glove liners topped with down mittens. At the end of the day I'd be wet from the outside in and from the inside out.

Today I think the thin polypropylene and other "technical materials" that wick moisture and keep me warm are magic.

3. I watch her spoon the dry powder to into the warm water with a little honey in it and soon there are bubbles and a distinctive smell. Later she mixes in some other ingredients to form a batter that grows. Eventually a home-baked loaf of bread comes out of our oven. That is magic.

4. People from around the world have seen my stories and my poems and I have seen theirs. From shared prompts or from a serendipitous stumble along a chain of links I have connections to these people. The Internet and blogging is magic.

5. It is not just a smile. It starts with a smile, the corners of the mouth raised, but it keeps going, with dimples starting and the corners of her eyes starting to crinkle. It is tender and sweet and wicked and it feeds my heart. That is magic.

6. This weekend I helped my elderly across-the-street neighbor, and his equally elderly brother-in-law shovel the heavy snow that the plows had piled at the end of his driveway. The rest of snow was light, but the plow-built embankment was very heavy. As we worked my neighbor told me that his car had become stuck the day before, when the snow was falling quite heavily. He said a quick prayer to Saint Christopher and seemingly out of nowhere a man appeared with a shovel to help get the car moving again. I would like to think that is magic.

A sight sparks a memory.
The memory carries emotion.
The emotion begets words,
words to paint with.
The words carry the picture,
the emotion, the memory.
That another sees what I do,
that is poetry,
that is magic.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Not that Cold


Last week I heard about the Monday Poetry Train Revisited and since then I have been trying to think of what I wanted to post today. I finally decided that I'd share an old poem that I hope everyone has read. And if you haven't read it, I hope you will.

When I was eleven I think I had some poetry assignments in school. After that, my dad (a true Renaissance man) tried to keep me interested in poetry and made sure there were books available to me. By the time I was in high school he was sharing some of his old books: one was a worn and already-starting-to-crumble paperback called American Ballads: Naughty Ribald and Classic. In it I found a couple poems of interest including one that told a fine story.

And so I was introduced to Robert W. Service. The poem was "The Cremation of Sam McGee," originally published in 1907. It begins:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

You can find the full text here and here. And for those with access to NPR (National Public Radio) you may be able click the link near the top of this page to hear the poem read aloud.

I like the tight internal rhymes and the way they make the story pull forward. And I happen to like snow, and most times I don't mind the cold (being someone who can appreciate the cycle of seasons). But I know I've never been as cold as Sam McGee. I hope you enjoy it too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Firsts for Totally Optionally Prompts


[Totally Optional Prompts encouraged us to write about "Firsts." First anything, actually. I'm late writing one this week, but decided to do it anyway.]

The Pallbearer

I missed my grandmother's funeral when I was off at school.
I spent the day after she died with my cousin,
learning about claddagh rings and candlepin bowling in Southie.

I was a summer trip chaperone when my granddad died.
They didn't tell me until I got home from constantly watching
5 stragglers in identical blue shirts to make sure they
stayed with the group when we crossed 5th Avenue or
entered the restaurant or left the museum.

But I came home for my great aunt's funeral,
even though it was one of the coldest Januarys on record.
I had never been a pallbearer before but the
funeral director was kind and clear.

There had been more people at the visitation
during the ice storm the night before.
In the morning everything sparkled
except us, bundled in the darkest,
warmest clothes we could find.

After the second time through
"The Old Rugged Cross on the Hill"
Mom said a few words.
She was now the matriarch.

We were all big, strong people:
my sister, niece, mom, one brother and an uncle.
But lifting the coffin by my hand-hold
I was surprised at how little it weighed.
Shouldn't 90 years of life feel heavier?

They reminded us to walk slowly,
even though the trip to the hearse was a short one
and under cover so there was no ice to slip on.

I later wondered how often there were more
women than men as pallbearers.
And I wondered if it would feel less awkward
the next time I was tapped for the job.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hunting Season


[Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect set us to write a Terza Rima for this week's Monday Poetry Stretch. Check out her site at the end of the week to see what others came up with. As for me, I have never seen the following, but my Mom tells me that an Arkansas native told her about this.]

Hunting Season

The guns are all clean and alarm clocks are on,
to wake up too early and head right on out.
The long day will feel like a whole marathon.
Youngsters rise with a grumble and pout,
(the weatherman promised the day would be clear)
a quick bite and coffee and then they are out
and into the woods to go hunting for deer.
A few counties over it's turkeys they'll seek,
and many will hope that they forego the beer
as they take enough food to stay out for a week
to fend of the yawns and to keep them awake,
but contrarily too much will put them to sleep!
A few groups that gather to go out and make
a hunting trip into the woods for the day
are seeking for something else out by the lake.
They're looking for parasites locked on their prey.
Their shotguns are loaded and ready to go
after bunches of green amidst branches so gray.
They will aim at the branches and fire just so,
the dead branch will tumble and fall at their feet
so that then they can harvest the green mistletoe
and they'll package it up for a profit quite sweet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008



[Read Write Poem provided Read Write Image promt #5. The image brought out this poem.]


I pout at the gray winter rain, at the drip,
drip, drip in the living room, at the cold
wind-whipped drops flung against my west
window. I pout at the yard getting soggier
and boggier and I feel the mold
growing on my winter soul.

I demand water on my own terms! Give me
mist from a breathtaking waterfall to refresh me on a fierce
summer day. I insist on a steamy hot bath with a closed
door and a good book. I need to coast north in the warm
Gulf Stream with Caribbean fishes at my side.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fall Books 2008


Here are the books I've read this fall.

Rebel Fay by Barb & J.C. Hendee
fantasy, fifth in the Nobel Dead series
This entry continues following Leesil's history and the search for his mother. We also delve deeper into Chap and his situation. And we are kept updated on the efforts of Westiel and Chane, even though they can't enter the land where Leesil, Magiere and company are adventuring. Needless to say, this is not the place to start with this series, but I think it does well by the characters, playing true to their natures and filling in blanks in the history that we'll need later.

Thin Air by Rachel Caine
fantasy, book six in the Weather Warden series
I found this book a challenge. I was extremely irratated at the beginning because it opened with Joanne having lost her memories. She couldn't tell who meant her well and who meant her ill and even some of the former "good guys" weren't sure she was who she used to be. If that sounds confusing, I agree completely. I will say that the mysteries started to clear up and there will be more chapters in this story to come. Once again, don't start with this book in the series. Back up at least a few books before tackling this one.

The Children of the Company by Kage Baker
fantasy, 6th book (give or take) of the novels of The Company
I looked through my previous posts and can't believe I haven't written about any books by Kage Baker. I have been following Company novels for many years now, starting with The Garden of Iden. There have been many lulls, some due to when the new books were published, and some due to the fact that I preferred to wait until the paperbacks were out. The whole basis of these books is that someone figured out how to go back in time and change people into cyborgs. Not just any people - the right people had to be children with certain physical characteristics and they had to be children that would have died without the company rescuing them. That allowed them to disappear and become agents for The Company. They were sent to rescue artwork and about-to-be-extinct plants and animals and hide them away to be "miraculously" discovered generations later. These agents live forward through the ages, working for their unknown future bosses.

In The Children of the Company, Baker shows us that even amongst immortal cyborgs power can corrupt and Labienus is prime exampt of corruption. He schemes and plots and holds enough power to see those plots carried out. Much of this book is a series of stories told as a trip through his memories. Some stories were ones I had seen another side of in previous collections of short stories, but there were some additional twists exposed here. Even so, this book was a frustration in that the main thread of the whole series (the mystery of what happens in the year 2355) is not advanced. If you can't find the older books, then this might catch you up a bit, thought you night not care as much about some of the protagonists as if you started at the beginning.

The Machine's Child by Kage Baker
fantasy, continuing series of novels about The Company
In this installment, we find Mendoza reunited with Nicholas Harpole & Edward Bell-Fairfax & Alec Checkerfield, the men she fell in love with (each in turn). And they are all together in a story that requires a leap of faith to just "believe" and let the story move on. Joseph sees Checkerfield and company as enemies meaning harm to Mendoza and attempts a rescue, even as he uncovers old Budu. The thing they all have in common is the sure knowledge that the Company must be stopped, even if they have to wait until 2355 to see that it happens.

Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker
fantasy, short stories of The Company
Yes, I went on a Kage Baker spree. Unlike some of the previous short story collections of The Company, I felt these were really important. Some illuminated relationships between the cyborgs; another introduced Mr. Hearst - something that would be important later on. And they all seemed to expose more about the nature of The Company and its scheming.

The Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker
fantasy, what appears to be the final Company novel
This finally wrapped things up! With jaunts back and forth across the planet and across time, we see all the players taking sides, making unexpected allies and enemies. The plots are thick and devious and as 2355 approaches, it is not a sure thing that anyone will live to tell about it! You cannot start with this novel - seriously. But if you have been following the series you will need to read it. I was not entirely pleased with how the tangle of Mendoza and her three loves works out, but then they aren't my characters, are they? I did, however, find the conclusion to the whole saga satisfactory.

Music to my Sorrow by Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill
fantasy, in the Bedlam's Bard series
Eric Banyon continues his struggle to rescue his brother Magnus. And he again finds himself pitted against plots by evil Unseleighe elves. Fortunately he has a lot of friends to help him out, even when he is too stupid to avoid the obvious. Underneath the story here is a tale of children used or abused for their talents, as well as the tale of parents who can't handle high-spirited kids. There is no solution offered for those under-tales, except maybe the caution that the "easy way out" may have unforeseen consequences.

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews
fantasy, book 2 about Kate Daniels
Like Magic Bites this story is set in and around an alternate Atlanta where waves of magic cause technology to fail, only to be offset by waves of technology that cause magic to fail. This time we find Kate in a "flare" when magic runs rampant with little technology reprieve. Even worse, someone may be trying to waken a diety or two. And if two dieties start battling for power then Atlanta and the humans living there may pay the price. These books are good, quick reads.

by Kristine Smith
fantasy, book 5 in the series about Captain Jani Kilian
I guess I have been deep in the series books all fall! This one is not a good place to start - too much to tell, too much to catch up with, too many politics to describe. But this is a good story. All the players are there, and the politics have caught up with every one of them. We start out in Thalassa, the community of human-idomeni hybrids, and as always, Jani keeps everyone guessing what she will do, to the frustration of those who care for her. Events cause her to return to the home of the idomeni, the place that still causes her nightmares.

His Dark Materials series:
The Golden Compass
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
by Philip Pullman
I admit it. I first heard about The Golden Compass when it was about to be released as a movie. And I read a little about some controversy about it - that it was anti-church. So I went to see the movie when it was released and found it enjoyable and not too objectionable. Seemed to me that the fuss was overrated. So I read the books, all three in the series.

In The Golden Compass, the book, the church is definitely more evil than in the movie. Yet the world in which this is set is not our world and therefore the church of the book is not any real church in our world. In the book Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel seem to be out for themselves, not the sympathic characters that they might have seemed at the end of the movie. The end of the first book is heartwrenching and leaves us watching Lyra walk off into another world where it touchs her own. She decides to discover the mystery of Dust for herself.

The Subtle Knife opens in our own world with young Will caring for his confused mother and fleeing men who seem to be targeting him or his long-lost father's notes. He finds a hole into another world and meets Lyra. Will becomes the bearer of the Subtle Knife that allows them to move from one world to another as she searches for Dust and he searches for his father. There are forces out to find Lyra, some to help her, some who want to use her and her talent with the Golden Compass. And on one visit to this world they stumble across Dr. Mary Malone and set her on a quest that will ultimately intersect theirs again, though the foreshadowing leaves us doubting that it will be a good thing. This book is darker than the first, but still compelling.

The Amber Spyglass continues the dark tone. There are angels (some fighting for good, some for evil). Both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are here, each scheming for their own purposes. Will searches for the kidnapped Lyra. Mary finds a world of giant trees and creatures made to live in harmony with them. The bear king Iorek Byrnison is on the move, as are the witches. The churchmen in this story are bent on a path to separate people from nature on a most elemental level. THIS book, I believe, is the reason for the protests of the movie. It is not that it is a bad book or a bad story, but it does use caricatures to shock us into thinking along new paths. I'm glad I read the series, though I think that I would not necessarily recommend it for young readers, or at least not without wanting to discuss the concepts raised.

Hope you enjoyed my list, though it looks like I need to read something besides fantasy for a while!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Miracles for Read Write Poem


[Read Write Poem provided a Wordle as a prompt - a cloud of words to choose from. The words in that image sparked this poem.]


Shadows gather then race westward,
wrapping night across the continent.
The murmur of the frozen north
is punctuated by dandelion-bright candles.
At Chanukah carnivals
Jews gather in congregations,
a religious archipelago in an ocean of gentiles.
Grandfathers wearing tallisim with an indigo thread in each corner
strain the last of the meniscus in their rusty old knees
to teach the little ones to play dreidel.
The smell of frying fills the buildings
promising sufganiyot drizzled with honey
and humble potatoes suddenly made numinous
by their bath in hot oil.


for those who have other traditions, here is a small glossary:

Chanukah is also called the festival of lights, and you'll find a menorah (a 9-branched candle-holder in the window of many Jewish houses). The holiday usually falls some time in December.

tallisim is the plural of tallis, which is a kind of scarf with religious meaning, warn by more observant Jews. Each tallis has a thin white tassle at each corner. Many tallisim have one blue thread in each tassle.

meniscus is cartilage in joints like the knee.

dreidel is a 4-sided top, used in a game of chance at Chanukah, often played for pennies, nuts, or chocolates.

sufganiyot are deep-fried donuts, often filled with jelly.

oil is the basis of the Chanukah holiday because of a miracle when oil that should have lasted one night instead lasted for eight nights. Foods fried in oil are a Chanukah tradition, hence potato pancakes (latkes).