Thursday, April 30, 2009

NaPoWriMo #27: grayland

I've been out of town since Sunday night (more on that in some future post), and during the first few days of the trip I was down in Grayland, one of my favorite places ever. I thought about writing while I was there, but I was enjoying myself and relaxing and wrangling kids at the beach too much to make time for writing poetry. And I had no internet access, so there was really no pressure to write something I could post. Which is just what I needed, because then I could let the creative juices percolate for a few days.

Going to Grayland

I’ve got two little ones
strapped in the back seat
and it’s me alone up front
a day trip to my roots
with an option to stay awhile
towns like bright beads
on a gray silk string
Ellensburg on one end
Seattle somewhere in the middle
Tukwila, Tacoma, Dupont
(my original hometown
according to my birth certificate)
Olympia, Tumwater, Elma
Satsop, Aberdeen, Westport,
Grayland tying off the strand

my hands relax on the wheel
my eye catches the glitter of sun
playing off two diamonds on my left hand
two wedding rings nestle
next to each other on my ring finger
two Christmases ago my mother
gave me nana’s ring, said
keep it three years then pass it on
to one of your sisters
you choose which one
it was on purpose I brought it with me
on this trip to the home
where my nana came as a new bride

she was a Boston girl
a lady
with wit, sense and style
a trim Navy nurse with soft brown curls
blue eyes that laughed, cried
and smiled all at the same time
she told stories about the war
all the nurses living in Quonset huts
near the base hospital on Oahu
and lowering her voice
as if someone might overhear about
other nurses getting discharged
for fraternizing with married officers
which is why when a young officer
asked her to dinner
she looked up his next of kin first
then graciously accepted
the invitation of the son
of the Reverend Clark Cottrell
of Grayland, Washington

could she have known then
what it would mean
that he would bring her home
down miles of narrow roads winding
through interminable green and gray
moss-grown spruce and fir and pine
across one-lane bridges
that arched over tidal flats
then down Highway 105
through the shorter coastal forest
dotted on each side with small, scattered houses
turning onto the final stretch of Gould Road
that he would bring her home
to Reverend and Mrs. Cottrell
to cranberry bogs, skunk cabbage, windswept dunes
to no running water and
all her favorite shoes spoiled with mold?

I looked at her ring
then looked at mine
thinking of my husband
bringing me home to his parents
to a windswept valley
fertile but still browner and drier
than the lush green of my childhood home
bringing me to live
in a single-wide trailer
with running water and a toilet
but no shower

and now driving through the familiar green
that became her home
and once was mine I realize
we don’t choose the landscapes of our love
but only who takes us there.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

NaPoWriMo #23-26: spring

In spite of being under the weather, I fired up the mower last night and beat the lawn into submission. We'll be in Seattle all next week, and I knew I'd be sorry if I let the grass go three weeks in a row. A brisk breeze was blowing, but even so, I loved sunset among the blooming violets and tulips, the fragile new shoots of bleeding hearts and peonies, the smell of fresh-cut grass crisp enough to penetrate even my stuffy nose. We've had a long, dreary winter, and it feels so good to get out into the sun, the air, the smells... ah!

The tiny bloom of
humble violets in throng
bring spring’s purple haze.

Tender buds only
just appearing mean lilacs
by May’s second week.

Marigolds bloom too late
after May crushes the bells of
tender hyacinth.

If all the flowers
I loved bloomed at once there would
be none left for June.

Friday, April 24, 2009

NaPoWriMo #22: blood

First, let us pause for a moment of self-pity and complaint: April's not even over yet, and I've been sick twice. Both times the same nasty throat-scratching, coughing, hacking bug. I'm so ready to be done with this. Not least because it's really interfering with my writing. Oh, and did I mention I got a rejection letter the other day? Yeah, Literary Mama; go ahead and kick me while I'm down.

Sorry. Had to get that out of my system. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. A couple days back, Read Write Poem had a great prompt about rites of passage. A couple of the particular ones mentioned—birth and death among them—blended oddly with a phrase that's been bouncing around inside my head, so here is the result.

Blood Will Out

The first I drew was not my own
but hers who gave me
life with her blood
life ushered into sterile solitude
blood blossoming
poppies on a field of white
a mother
a daughter
delivered by strangers
surrounded by empty beds
a father
a husband
both distant in passion and place
I can tell myself
it was a different time
it was how it was done then
but I still hear slow ticking
of wall clock’s minute hand
smell bleach on rough sheets
taste salt as waves closed
over her head and she sank
down down down.

Fourteen years later
my own bleeding came
not life, but that pale promise of
life yet to come
away from home
fleeing to clammy-tiled solitude
protected only by flimsy restroom walls
of gray paint-flaked steel
I found a single poppy blooming
blood on white panties
a daughter
a daughter
delivered by a stranger with a dime
surrounded by empty stalls
a mother
my mother
distant in person and place
I can tell myself
she would have put her arm around me
she would have said just the right thing
but I still feel soft cotton of my pink striped dress
hiked up above my thighs
smell industrial strength sickly sweetness
of restroom air freshener
taste hardness in cold water
I splashed on my face as I sank
down down down.

Twenty years after that
was the first time I gave
life with my blood and
killed a part of her as well
she who had been so alone her first time
I didn’t understand she feared the same for me
she didn’t understand I feared the opposite
dreaded being center ring in some
frenzied circus spinning around
blood blooming scarlet petals from
thin red line across my belly
a daughter
a mother
and so by my own will I was
delivered by strangers
surrounded by steel instruments
a husband
my husband
his clammy hand folded tenderly around mine
I can tell myself
it was my right to draw my line
it was healthy to have boundaries
but I still smell sharp oxygen
pricking in my nostrils
taste steely sweetness of my blood
mingled with hers
feel waves of regret sweeping me
down down down.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NaPoWriMo #21: alone

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
—Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband


A love affair dies without
time alone together to blossom
and not just time but
time wisely chosen well spent
when every light is still out except
soft waxing glow of first twilight
when a knife scraping butter across toast
or a pencil’s deliberate scratch
echo across this house and no one hears
when I can run away from home
fly to the distant side of sawtoothed mountains
swim among corals at the bottom of some strange sea
bury myself among stalactites and stalagmites
wander thirsty deserts in search of myself
and still be back before breakfast.

Monday, April 20, 2009

NaPoWriMo #17-20: surrender

Don't think from the title of this post that I'm giving up on NaPoWriMo; rather, I'm giving myself a get-out-of-jail-free card. 'Cause this is my blog, so I can do that!

Trust doesn’t walk a
tightrope with no net; it jumps
out into the void.

Here am I clinging
to the ledge, both feet planted
praying for a net.

Someday I will stop
trying to surrender, be
willing to just jump.


Wind does not break a
yielding sapling; new leaves
grow after spring’s storm.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NaPoWriMo #16: soundtrack

A few years back I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? for the first time. Ordinarily I can take or leave the Cohen Brothers (loved The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty; The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona, not so much).

Maybe it was because O Brother, Where Art Thou is based on Homer's Odyssey and I'm a sucker for The Odyssey, which I still managed to enjoy even while translating it from Latin my sophomore year in high school... I'm not sure. But I loved the fanciful update of a great story. I loved George Clooney's manic lip-synching to "Man of Constant Sorrow". I loved Pete getting "loved up and turned into a horny toad." And I especially loved the tins of Dapper Dan pomade and cows swirling through flood waters. But most of all, I loved the soundtrack, which I promptly went out and paid, well, almost full price for (I bought it at Costco).

Tonight Jim and I were watching In Plain Sight, one of our new favorite shows, which is just starting its second season. At the end of the episode, one of the tracks from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack—my favorite track—started to roll. And I suddenly felt inspired.

O sinners let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sinners let's go down
Down in the river to pray

—“Down to the River to Pray”, Traditional Baptist Hymn

Down in the River

A smoky sweet autumn wind
weaves along river’s bank
caresses aspen leaves turned gold
coaxes maple leaves turned scarlet
gentles them down in slow spirals
through willow’s weeping tendrils
to catch shifting shafts of honey light
as trees bow in the breeze

I’m bowing in the breeze
gentled down low to weeping
coaxed to kneel broken-hearted
clothed in scarlet as I wait
leaves caressing my hair
carpeting the grass and dusty shore
under my knees and feet
how long till I give way

how long till leaves and grass give way
to smooth cool of riverbed rocks
under my bare soles
under my knees
till I give myself to living waters
washing dust from my feet and hands and mouth
till I float white-clad down the river
hair fanning out behind me
with maple and aspen spiraling above?

Friday, April 17, 2009

NaPoWriMo #15: instead

I wrote this last night after looking at the Read Write Poem prompt to make a list of things I do instead of doing something else. I started out making a list of what I was wearing (tan corduroys and denim sneakers from Value Village, a red hooded shirt from Costco) and thinking of what I would rather wear instead. Then I did away with the whole first part and the poem took on another life. I'm not totally satisfied with it, but I think it could be a good beginning.


Let me strip away
the apathy you wear
to cover nakedness of fear
let me fold you instead
in yards of cobalt silk
that billow then settle
to cling around your shoulders
let me hang lapis from your ears
drape opals round your throat
leave your wrists and feet bare
and free
let me brush your hair with soft strokes
twisting it through my fingers
till it tumbles in dark gleaming waves
let me lavish on you
all the thousand moments you’ve spent
on everyone but you
let me be the mirror
so that you can start to see

Thursday, April 16, 2009

NaPoWriMo #14: cars

I almost didn't know where to begin with the "road trip" prompt at Read Write Poem, since the subject of cars is highly evocative for me.

My parents were in the middle of their divorce the summer I took driver's ed, so taking me out to practice driving wasn't high on their list of priorities. Frankly, nerves were so raw (on all sides) when I did practice, it was a blessed relief to get a D and opt out by sheer failure.

I didn't get my driver's license until I was 21 and moved to California to be a missionary. Learning to drive in the Bay Area permanently stunted my driving style and it has taken years for me to unlearn my aggressive tendencies. The lead foot I will never unlearn—it's genetic—but parenthood has tamed (lamed?) it, and I usually drive right at the limit when my kids are in the car.

My first car, which I bought in 1993, was a burgundy 1989 Toyota Corolla, just like the mission cars I had driven in California. I paid for it myself, but was so broke after the down payment I had to borrow from my folks to pay for insurance. I've posted before about my tradition of naming vehicles, and Rosie Rolla was my first. I drove it for the next nine years, until Jim and I traded it in on a brand new gunmetal gray Camry (named Felix) as a graduation present to ourselves. I think the salesman saw us coming; the first feature he pointed out was the three child seat anchors in the back seat.

We're a Toyota family, between Rosie, Felix and the Batmobile (Jim's black 1992 Toyota pickup), but if I were ever to own the car of my dreams, it would be a 1969 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible. Red, of course. Maybe someday.

I think the VW love goes back to our first family car I remember from when I was a kid, a blue VW squareback. I vaguely recall an old white Ford we may have had before the squareback, as well as a succession of cars after, but the squareback is the one I remember fondly, being buckled in the back seat and sometimes up front if it was just me and Dad, in the days before child car seats.

Are We There Yet?

You and mom up front
me and Lee in back
too little then to know
let alone remember now
why we were on the way to California
all I remember is a blur
riding the Nut Tree Railroad
straight streets lined with palm trees
driving through a wildlife preserve
and how even rolled up windows
failed to muffle the profanity
coming from under our dark blue hood

four of us packed in a squareback
white vinyl sticking to our backs and legs
leaving its impression of raised dots
marching across our clammy skin
windows rolled down
still failed to cool tempers
only made our hair stringy
plastered it across sweaty foreheads
blew it into our mouths
while we yelled at each other

you had pinned a yellow button
with a smiling face
to the back of your visor
for so much of that trip
it was the only face to smile
I coveted it from the back seat and
you promised me I could have it
if I would be a good girl
if I would just stop asking.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NaPoWriMo #13: haircut

I'm not caught up yet, but at least I'm not getting any further behind.

Today I got inspired when I went to the local beauty school to get my hair done. I've had hair issues ever since a few months after Audrey was born and my hair started to fall out, grow back in short wispy tufts, then fall out some more, and grow back in more weird wisps.

At first I thought getting an expensive salon cut would be the solution. Not so much. I liked the stylist but the cut was just ho-hum and way overpriced. Last time, which was about six months ago, I decided to go to Supercuts, where I got a much better cut for less than a third of what I paid at the chichi salon. Lately, however, I've been feeling exceptionally cheap, and the beauty school costs half as much Supercuts. To get a poem, too, made it an absolute bargain!

People-watching at the Beauty School

As I push down the brass lever handle
and swing the door open
I can see they’ve painted since
last time I came for a trim
walls washed in pale key lime
with a darker shade of apple trim
windows on the east wall
let in late afternoon light
refracted and reflected at each
of a dozen mirrored stations
I’m intoxicated by deliciously overpriced
shampoos, conditioners, styling products
gleaming garish in slick tubes and bottles
nail polishes winking cherry and watermelon
but tastiest by far is the luxury
of a brief hour by myself eavesdropping
watching someone else’s drama playing out
on this small-town beauty school stage

act one: mom with her light green contacts
over dark brown eyes
is at the register as I walk in
asking cordial but concerned
when can we come back
and have this reversed?
I can see from across the room
her teenage daughter in faded jeans and t-shirt
with a friend or maybe big sister
hovering comforting consoling
her roots are coffee brown while tragically
the length of her tresses are a honey blonde

act two: as Karen takes me to her station
we pass a young boy of seven or eight
in a chair extended to its full height
after my shampoo I watch him
straining to sit up straight and still
his dad looks on telling him jokes
asking him about school and friends
twisting his rough hands around
a baseball cap while he watches his son
trying to not fidget or fuss as the stylist
a plump motherly brunette
in a black apron and pink necklace
tickles him with her clippers
trimming close hairs on his nape
his crisp tapered cut almost done

act three: halfway through my cut I notice
a twenty-something guy
husky in madras shirt and wrinkled khakis
ambling in through the front door
checking in at the counter
following a willowy blonde stylist
and finally settling into the chair
across and one seat down from me
his hair curls in enviable if unruly waves
down over his shoulders across his face
mutton chops and full beard
and I wonder will she cut it short? shave him?

I’m poised on the edge of my adjustable vinyl seat
but the efficient and methodical Karen
finishes my cut and I never find out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

NaPoWriMo #12: home

I'm still playing catch-up. When I read the prompt at Read Write Poem to write about where I came from, I decided to re-work a poem I wrote last year.

Goodbye 3517

I remember summer afternoons
picking sweet peas and blackberries
from the wild tangle of our alley
their pink and purple juices
running through my bones
walking blocks and blocks
to get to a saltwater swimming pool
and rocky kelp strewn beaches
and after dark stealthily climbing
a cherry tree reaching skinny legs
to span across to the top of our gazebo
soles of bare feet back arms legs
rubbed against rough shingled roof
as I stared up at moon and stars
to see what they held for me

I remember winter nights
when rain seeped into my bones
creeping from my room
back when it was still downstairs
still hung with home sewn
white curtains trimmed with eyelet
still wallpapered with orderly rows
of tiny orange flowers
the worn carpet and linoleum
reassuring my bare feet as I crept
to huddle over a kitchen vent
with warmth blowing up
inside my thin nightgown

I remember
summer spring winter and fall
being happiest alone
curled up with a book and my thoughts
in some solitary spot

five families have called
this house home
even when they didn’t want to
one: before dad left
two: after
three: us
four: them
five: uneasy union of us all

here it is: my last visit
the home I remember is long gone
and I am a stranger
in a house full of ghosts
new rugs and slick floors
piled high with so much sentimental debris
now waiting to be sorted, boxed
discarded, mourned
soon it will all be gone
someone else’s new home
covering a grave
(here lies my tender youth)
and those bones will rest at last.

Monday, April 13, 2009

NaPoWriMo #11: charade

Last Friday Read Write Poem had a great prompt, but I just wasn't feeling it then: write a poem about an old movie. So. I'm working oh so slowly through my writer's block, just trying to gentle my way into writing again, and today has felt a bit more fruitful.

I'm a sucker for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and Charade is one of my all-time faves (right up there with Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, His Girl Friday... yeah, they just don't make 'em like they used to). It's got great comic and romantic chemistry, a phenomenal ensemble cast, a seriously haute wardrobe for Miss Hepburn, and snappy dialog that includes some truly memorable one-liners ("She batted them pretty little eyes at you, and you fell for it like an egg from a tall chicken!")

If you haven't seen Charade, rent it (but don't even waste your time with the lousy remake The Truth About Charlie, starring Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton).

Oh, and here's the poem.

You Forget I’m Already a Widow

You were going to get a divorce
because you loved him
and he didn’t love you
now all you have left of him
fits in one small blue bag
comb, toothbrush, tooth powder
key, wallet, agenda
ticket to South America
and one letter stamped but unsealed
addressed to you
my darling Regina

what now, now that you’re
alone with a small blue bag
alone with $250,000
missing in plain sight
alone with your Givenchy
and filtered cigarettes
like drinking coffee
through a veil
alone with all these men
hiding behind the same cleft chin
and graying temples
what now

can you trust him to
steal from you
protect you
kill you
love you?

Friday, April 10, 2009

NaPoWriMo #10: found

I did found poetry for NaPoWriMo last year, by cannibalizing lyrics from some of my favorite songs. Today, Read Write Poem had another great idea for a found poem: using a passage of text from an out of print book, and then reworking the line breaks to create poetry. Using Google Books, I found the following:

The Soul in Us

Mother love
reveals the human soul
says one
but mother love
is commonplace among
the higher animals
and some of the less high
love and sacrifice of self
for family and community
prove soul
well, the worker bee
works till it falls dead
on the threshold of the hive
with honey sac or pollen baskets
filled with food
which it is bringing home
to feed the babies
and queen
and drones
of the hive
faith in an all-wise
and all-kind God
proves the soul
in us.

(from Human Life as the Biologist Sees It, by Vernon Lyman Kellogg. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1922, p. 120.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

NaPoWriMo #9: paradise

The NaPoWriMo prompt for today at Read Write Poem was "paradise". Which stymied me until a friend serendipitously sent me a completely non-related email that had a picture of a signpost showing PARADISE 12 KM. Somehow that visual got my creative juices percolating, so thank you, Gretchen!

12 KM to Paradise

I used to say
tell me the latitude and longitude
for the exact spot where
the rainbow ends
traffic lights are always green
parking meters and payphones never run out
people work to live
and not the other way around
all lost socks are found
buses, trains and planes leave five minutes late
but still arrive on time
toilet paper rolls last forever
everyone says please, thank you
you’re welcome, I love you
I’m sorry, I forgive you
no one is allergic to cats
cherry blossoms bloom year-round
a lion lies down with a lamb
cereal boxes have a toy surprise inside
for every child who pours a bowl
and every child has a bowl of food to eat

now I don’t ask
because I know
there is no where
but here
and now
and me
reaching out
to do
and love
and be.

NaPoWriMo #8: moonstruck

The entrance of the Union Gap Costo faces east, and last night we could see the full moon rising as we wheeled the shopping cart toward our car. It was so lovely, I just wanted to reach up, put it in my pocket and take it home. I scribbled the start of this on a scrap of paper, sitting at the Costco gas station while Jim filled the tank.

Moon in My Pocket

Low on evening’s east horizon
a creamy orb hangs
in the hyacinth sky
ripe and full
teasing me to take a bite
a perfect sugar-crusted cookie
a luminous turtle egg
a newly minted silver dollar
a giant pearl nestled
in the hollow of night’s neck
swathed in its scarf
of diaphanous cloud
I reach up
surprised to find it
hard cool smooth
under my fingertips
and slide it into my pocket
I’ll eat it later.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

NaPoWriMo #7: nicknames

Read Write Poem's prompt for yesterday, "nicknames", caught me off-guard because one of the first things I thought of was a childhood nickname given to me by my uncle. That in turn opened a floodgate of memories about him and how our relationship has changed over the years. I actually wrote the first half of the poem yesterday, but then I had to sleep on it and come back to it today when I had time to really give what I needed to this poem, to dig deep and write.


When I was four five six seven eight
he twirled me till my full skirts belled out
lifted and carried me on his shoulders
called me Gypsy
gave me a ride home from first grade
on the back of his motorcycle
made me wear his scuffed white helmet
while his bare long hair streamed behind
fed me chocolate chips while watching
Saturday morning cartoons at his house.

It was only later I remember
overhearing my mom and aunt
talking about his marriage failing
because of pot coke drinking
beginning to understand words like
codependent and addiction
because they weren’t whispering
or keeping the doors closed anymore
and after I remembered for myself
finding magazines under his coffee table
decks of cards with naked ladies
feeling sick when I looked at them
dirty when I thought of why my heart raced
tasting vomit back in my throat
when I recognized his smell
was the smell of beer.

He took me fishing once when I was a teenager
his small white motorboat breaking over
whitecaps in the Strait of Juan de Fuca
but I didn’t know what to say to him
even when we hooked a cod
gray scaly longer than my arm
flopping dull against fiberglass hull
just listened to him telling me
stories and names of silver inlets
wrapped around emerald headlands
on the way home and all the while
holding back vomit when
I caught his beer-smell on the breeze.

The years since have wasted him and me:
wasted time wasted love wasted life
only recently I’ve resigned my need to deny
that I am more like him than I knew
for we both brawl with our own demons
acquainted with pain, I feel his when I see him
brown bag in hand at a reunion
or when I catch his breath as we hug
I wonder now what beer was the balm for
what first wounded his wild gypsy soul
when he was half the age I am now.

I don’t know how this story ends
only that I’m not Gypsy anymore and
he’s not the same man who named me.

Monday, April 06, 2009

NaPoWriMo #6: orbit

Read Write Poem posted an image prompt today, a picture of riders and empty swings on a Chair-O-Plane ride. The last time I rode one was when I was a teenager, at the Puyallup Fair. I loved the dizzy, sick-to-my stomach rush of going around and around so fast, the thrill that at any moment the thin chains holding me could break and I would fly off into space. That feeling of hurtling through space became the first line, and then the poem went off in another direction, taking me on a completely different ride.

Kepler’s First Law of Planetary Motion

I’m hurtling through
the space around you
though wild my lopsided orbit may be
I’m held to my course
centripetal force
tethers my body to your gravity.

Friday, April 03, 2009

NaPoWriMo #3: threes

Today's prompt at Read Write Poem was "threes". Instead of going for the literal, I thought I'd go to a form I've tried only once before, the tritina. This was inspired by our dessert tonight, and though I had to keep myself from thinking about the horrendous amounts of pesticides associated with storebought strawberries, they were sufficiently delicious to start my mouth watering for the ones that will be showing up in our backyard later this summer. Now, if only it would stop snowing here...

July in April

I’ll wash then sort then slice the berries
while you pour then whip then sweeten cream
and when we’re done lay out forks and plates

steel gleams burnished beside cobalt plates
lavishly heaped with crimson berries
nestled under velvet flurried cream

breath of vanilla infuses cream
painstaking, we lick clean our plates
but still taste tart off-season berries

on each other’s lips kissing cream and strawberries after plates of July in April.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

NaPoWriMo #1: metaphor

Thank you (in advance) to the good folks at Read Write Poem for a month's worth of prompts. I don't know if I'll use them every day, but it's nice to have an ace up my sleeve. Just in case.

Today's prompt was to make a list of five things in front of me and use the two most disparate to create a metaphor. I didn't go that exact route, but then again, when do I? My five items were a red plastic cup, my laptop, pencils (which became crayons for poetic purposes), a booklet of coupons from BiMart, and my planner. Here's the haiku I wrote, plus a bonus haiku inspired by Jimmy's on-going science project (see the photo above), which also happens to fit into the category of metaphor.

On the Table

Crayons, calendar
coupons, computer: my life
in a dixie cup.

First Planting

Thrusting green out of
voluptuous brown, too soon
to tell what I’ll be.