Thursday, April 29, 2010

NaPoWriMo #24: news

RWP has reliably fun prompts and today was no exception: write a poem inspired by headlines or some other news-related source. So I went to the website for the Daily Record, our local paper. As small-town papers go, it's pretty typical: lots of typos, writing on par with my high school paper (no offense to the Mess staff), and the things that constitute local news are just downright... well, you be the judge. Here's a sampling of today's headlines:
  • Kittitas County's fly fishers hooked for life
  • Ellensburg food drive set for this weekend
  • Mushroom hunting has roots in Kittitas Valley
  • Ellensburg church teens fast to help the world's hungry
So, for a little more inspiration I turned to my personal favorite section of the paper, the police blotter. It didn't disappoint me. Just a few lines down and I struck gold: "An unruly man with tattoos, a dirty T-shirt and a cane was reported on Ruby Street."

The Ballad of Ruby Street Walt

A torn tank tee that once was red
hangs loose on his lean frame
he stumbles down the sidewalk
having no apparent aim
inky thorns wind up both arms
roses bloom across his back
his bearded face is ageless
though his ancient eyes are black
he shouts and curses at the air
—maybe drunk or high on meth—
no one wants to get close enough
to smell what’s on his breath.
He wanders past the library
as story time lets out
but doesn’t seem to see the
moms and kids running about.
He heads north, crosses, then turns
left at Ruby Street and Third
passes by the doughnut shop
flips an old lady the bird
shakes his cane at passing cars
turns right, heading north on Pine
passes two gift stores, one spa
stops at the Ace Hardware sign
suddenly the door slides open
a man walks out and smiles
“Why, hello, Walt! So, how are
you? It sure has been a while.”
He takes Walt’s arm, holds the cane
leads him to his truck
“C’mon—I’ll get you home in
time for lunch, with any luck.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NaPoWriMo #23: final stretch

Not exactly a seventh inning stretch, but I'm just slightly more than seven-tenths done with NaPoWriMo now, so close enough, eh?


The knife’s bite as I
slice onions spills more blood but
hurts less than your words.

NaPoWriMo #22: goodbye

Twenty years ago, I should have had a conversation like this with an old friend. It's too late now, but here it is.

Water Rings

His fingers
played with the handle of his mug
working on it
as if he could somehow
change the shape of the clay
as he spoke

It’s like I’m cold
and can’t get warm again
no matter what I do

Done, I
pushed my mug gently away
blurring the ring of water
distilled around its base
to a wet trail across the table top
and said

I wish I could
But I won’t make you warm
no matter what I do.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NaPoWriMo #21: acrostic

Read Write Poem is saving my bacon... again. Their prompt for the day is to write an acrostic poem. I decided to be a little silly, just have fun with it.

Knowing better isn’t
Always enough deterrent
To completely prevent
Her from making
Errors; but speaking
Realistically, she gradually
Is learning how
Not to immediately
Expect perfection. Yet.

Monday, April 26, 2010

NaPoWriMo #20: more scraps

Here's another snippet raised from the dead poem files and fleshed out into a tanka.

After the Baby's Bath

Claw-foot tub empty,
porcelain-coated iron
still warm, with a faint
film of downy hairs that once
crowned the soft spot on your head.

NaPoWriMo #19: scraps

Last year, right after NaPoWriMo, I went to a day-long poetry workshop (which, incidentally, I'll be doing again this weekend). Sam Green had us do an exercise that involved writing about smells from our childhood. One of the first ones that came to mind was the scent of the chicken coops behind the trailer where we lived when I was between three and six years old. I started working around that and came up with a few lines of a poem, but it was rough and when I got home, I tucked it away and forgot about it.

Today's prompt at Read Write Poem was to take the scraps of an old poem and make something new. Suddenly, this old poem jumped into my mind and begged for another chance. So, here's the background, because otherwise it may not make sense (it's reworked, but still rough).

When I was small, my dad used to sing to me at bedtime. I can't remember when I (or he) outgrew this ritual, but I have vivid memories of it, and the song I remember him singing is John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders". Whenever I hear it, I think of him.

Oh, and by the way, the words in italics are lyrics from the song which I've worked into the body of the poem.

So Dad, this one's for you.

Sunshine on My Shoulders

outside, still oppressive
at this evening hour
but in the dim room you sit
the edge of my bed
tuck a yarn-tied
nine-patch quilt up to
chin the exact way
I like it best
and I can see your
outlined crisp, dark
against the soft glow
of the drawn shade, which
a gentle tap-tap-tap
against my window sill
its rhythm soothes
as it lets in
the still-bright air
the soft clucking of
hens and their sharp scent
though I barely hear
shades or chickens when
spills from your voice
the liquid weight
of each word suspended
the space between
you and me
a honey-song I taste on
tongue, that echoes
golden in my ears
and glows amber in my
when your voice catches
each time on the same line
in the chorus I
hear all those things
you don’t ever say
and each night you
it right again
when you sit here
in this same spot beside
yes, we are at our best
for those moments
when, together, we

NaPoWriMo #18: no rhythm

I was thinking about what I wrote about meter: that I have a hard time with anything involving rhythm, because it just doesn't come naturally. And it occurred to me that when I write in meter, I always feel like I'm watching my feet instead of actually feeling the rhythm of the meter. Which in turn led to this little snippet of a poem.

Two Right Feet Still Make a Wrong Rhythm

Dance with abandon
shake shake shake shake it
when no one’s around
caught up by sound
rhythm and flow I’m
detached from the ground

dancing in a crowd
fake fake fake fake it
counting with each beat
and watching my feet
stilted and slow I’ve
got shoes of concrete.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

NaPoWriMo #17: triolet

More experimentation, this time with form. I tried to do a triolet, a complicated form with French origins, and am not terribly satisfied with it. After a two-day wrestle, though, I'm ready to wrap up and move on to something else.

Love and Clover

Bees, humming bobbins of gold thread
embroider rolling clover fields
they lace through fragrant flower heads
bees, humming bobbins of gold thread
their murmured music leaves unsaid
the way a heart first breaks, then yields
bees, humming bobbins of gold thread
embroider rolling clover fields.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NaPoWriMo #16: opposite

More experimentation with meter, this time using the opposite of dactylic tetrameter: anapest.

Lost in Thought

There’s a cobweb that’s spread in the back of my mind
and it’s harvesting dust motes like fish in a net:
gray scales burgeoning through the meshwork intertwined;
it holds something I want, but I can’t find it yet.
If I cut the snare open, release each stray thought,
oh, the whirlwind I’ll reap as they all fly away,
and I never will find in the chaos I’ve wrought—
amid lint, grit, and grime—gold that drifted astray.

NaPoWriMo #15: meter

The reason the thought of writing a sonnet practically gave me shingles is I'm not very good at meter. Pretty much anything having to do with rhythm (singing, dancing, etc.) is a challenge for me; I have to practice over and over until I know it well enough to do it in my sleep, but it never feels completely natural for me.

So, I thought I'd make myself stretch a bit by looking at different forms and trying something new. I checked out, which has a great glossary of poetic terms, including those referring to meter. I was rather intrigued by tetrameter, which is a meter with four "feet" (stressed syllables), particularly dactylic tetrameter, which is the meter used in the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".

As I was reading over the Beatles' lyrics, a phrase popped out at me, reminding me of Audrey. Earlier today she was running around the house with two cheap plastic kaleidoscopes, a pink one and a red one, held up to each eye. Ah, unexpected inspiration!

I liked how as I wrote the poem, the alliteration seemed to come together naturally with the sing-song meter. I don't know if it comes across, but the more I wrote, the words just seemed to spin around faster and faster (because of the rhythm), imitating the effect of the kaleidoscope. Nice!

The only trick I really struggled with was how to end a poem with two unstressed syllables, because I couldn't find any guidelines for specific forms using this meter. So I improvised; I just ended it on the last stressed syllable, which happened to be where the rhyme scheme ended.


She is my child with kaleidoscope eyes and I
see no escape from her rose-colored whys but I
want no reprieve from her red and pink gaze as she
multiplies me, makes me move in new ways, what does
this, why does that, with a twist and a turn, then she
spins and she swirls, and I suddenly learn how I
never knew half what I thought that I knew, but the
dear ways she does it, I’m glad that it’s true, so I
hold to her tight, and just watch what unfurls, she’s my
rose-colored, pink-red kaleidoscope girl.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

NaPoWriMo #12-14: flawed

I've had strep throat since Saturday and finally admitted to myself that staying up late writing sonnets wasn't doing me any favors. Thanks to the marvels of modern antibiotics, I'm feeling a lot better and am determined to finish off the month with a poem for every day. So, back to Read Write Poem for another quality prompt, which yielded a series of three haiku. They each can stand alone, or be read together as a single statement.

Of Use

A cracked bucket still
carries more than a perfect
porcelain teacup.

Even a dull axe
can be sharpened by skilled hands
to do its job well.

Who am I to be
less useful than an old axe
or leaky bucket?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

NaPoWriMo #11: elemental

I liked Read Write Poem's prompt to write a poem about one of the four elements. I confess to being a bit inspired by Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice," which I've always admired.

And just to show I'm willing to face my fears, I wrote it as a sonnet. I think Holly is right; getting caught up in the form helps to work through a block (thanks, Holly!)

Sonnet No. 3

I am man’s oldest friend and his most feared.
When underestimated I can turn
and in an hour leave a forest cleared,
razed in a raging furnace on the burn.
I glory in the smell of scorching flesh,
the ruins of a home charred down to earth,
devouring all that’s live and loved and fresh,
and leaving only ash and death and dearth.
For many years, my appetite had bounds;
millennia, my power limits knew—
but now, my old and cunning friend has found
ways to use me, once done, he can’t undo.
I will consume this world whole if I can,
but don’t thank me; the honor goes to man.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

NaPoWriMo #10: a challenge

That's what I get for venting about my NaPoWriMo woes on Facebook. One of my oldest friends, Holly, threw down the gauntlet and assigned me to write a sonnet. Oh, it gets better: she assigned me to write a sonnet using the words violet, harbor, stem, drink and absolution. (Did I mention she used to teach college-level English at Purdue?)

This is the first sonnet I've written since the last time I was assigned to write one, which was more than twenty years ago in Mr. Adams' class, my senior year in high school. This one isn't much better, but it does follow all the rules and include all the obligatory words.

I've learned my lesson. No more griping on Facebook.

Sonnet No. 2

Regret is nothing but a rueful brew;
its swill will slake the thirst of self-disdain.
Cold-pressed from grapes of loathing, left to stew,
it soils the soul with livid violet stain.
A better drink, contrition heals the heart,
dissolves away the icy thorns of spite
and in their place humility imparts
a bloom of hope to set transgressions right.
I taste of both the bitter and the sweet,
but absolution stems from only one.
In finally forgiving I’m complete;
I harbor no reproach for what I’ve done.
Each fault’s a jewel, ev’ry flaw a gem
when those mistakes have made me who I am.

Friday, April 16, 2010

NaPoWriMo #9: poetry night

In honor of National Poetry month, tonight was family poetry night at our public library. Jim had errands to run (any excuse to avoid poetry, really, since I overtax him with mine) so Jimmy, Audrey and I walked down to the library together.

It was a great presentation, combining some well-known classics by Browning, Shakespeare, Byron, Dickinson and Poe (to name a few) with Karen Jo Shapiro, a modern poet who writes for kids and spoofs the classics. The talented cast presented the poems by acting some out, singing some, and reciting others with appropriate drama. At an hour, it was a little long for younger kids like mine; by halfway through the presentation, Audrey had started kicking Jimmy. But on the whole, the kids did well, and both enjoyed the evening, especially the cookies and cupcakes served afterward.

On the way home, my poetic juices started to flow, and here's the result:

Walking Home from the Library with My Children on a Spring Evening

In the velvety gloom
of half-dark after dusk
we stroll four short blocks
on one side
a small palm presses warm into mine
on the other
a voice sing-songs me sweet stories
of birds and eggs in their nests

all the way
that warmth, that soothing song
float me along
from street lamp to porch light
past tulips ready to burst into brilliance
after one more day of sun
past lilacs that have given up
bare bones to buds of new jade
past every unseen growing thing
smelling green again
past all the shady places in between
and through the twilight air
the tinkling of talking and laughter
fades in and out
as we pass each house
on the way
to that last bright glow
circling out into the night
to welcome us home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

NaPoWriMo (paused)

No poem today. Just tiny fingers and toes. Because this baby deserves a day all to itself.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NaPoWriMo #8: secret codes

I'm really grateful for the abundance of interesting prompts at Read Write Poem, which are helping me get caught up, but not just by churning out whatever. Here's a tanka based on the prompt to attribute a secret code to an unlikely source.

By the way, I got my inspiration for what to write about when I was out in the yard today cleaning up the winter mess and raking leaves off the flowerbeds. Over in the bed where our raspberries grow, I found some volunteer peony shoots breaking up through the leaves, so I transplanted them to another part of the yard where we have more peonies. In writing the poem, I did tweak the prompt a bit; rather than spelling out what the peonies are saying, it's implied by the title.


Can you read what is
written in young peony
shoots that, so yielding,
yet burst crimson to the sun
through a shroud of last year’s leaves?

NaPoWriMo #7: cleave poem

Read Write Poem's prompt for today introduced me to a new poetic form: the cleave poem. The basic idea is to write two separate poems that stand side by side, line for line, and which can also be read across the lines as a single poem. Interesting and not a little challenging, but the possibilities are really intriguing.

Life and Light

in the absence of understanding hearts wax cold and hard
a candle’s frail flame fails minds darken from want of light
and so it is no good thing grows hands hang down in despair
no passion, concern, ideas no sun to warm, to feed, to lift
until we rekindle that fire to illuminate with truth and love

NaPoWriMo #6: dreams

Tooth Dreams

I dreamed I lost all my teeth
and waking to find them in place
even counting them twice
still felt something missing

so I went to a woman
who interprets dreams
she spoke in a song with no tune
all white words over a black abyss

the key to the meaning of dreams
lies in the realm of what’s real
not as much about what they seem
but rather the way that you feel

when I was silent, she prompted

like a ship with no rudder or sails
like a bird with no feathers or wings
like a horse without its mane or tail
like a scorpion without a sting?

I thought, then shook my head
like a house with no fence
I said

she smiled through gentle eyes
ah, she said
that explains everything.

Monday, April 12, 2010

NaPoWriMo #5: the road not taken

Another good prompt at Read Write Poem inspired this poem:


Long after the wake of our breakup
subsided to a ripple
you stirred waves again in my heart
wrote letters
met me at the airport
had me over
then never called back.

It took me a long time
to stop feeling like
a green striped sock
with no match
a crumpled wad of masking tape
after the painting is done
a doll with one blue glass eye
and no eyelashes
a long time
to stop wondering
what I had done wrong.

I can only thank you
for in leaving me behind
you chose better for me
than I would have
for myself.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

NaPoWriMo #4: conversation

Read Write Poem had a great prompt the other day: converse with an image that means something to you. It took me a few minutes to think of just the right image, and then it came to me.

If you've read much of this blog, you know I'm a great lover of Andrew Wyeth's artwork. And the first concrete image I thought of was my favorite Wyeth painting, Christina's World. It was considerably more difficult to think about what kind of conversation I would have with that image, but I took a stab at it.

Conversation with Christina

Andy painted you at high summer
a slender figure framed in fields of dry grass
faded pink set against burnt gold
silver-streaked tendrils of dark hair
barely stirring in a lifeless breeze

My favorite half-remembered tale of you
may not even be true: you crawled every day
to visit the graves of your mother and father
then crawled home again
so I must ask

were the gulls wheeling in the salty morning sky
when you first reached up, turned the brass knob
and pushed open the weathered door?

did the sun-baked stalks crackle under your weight
tearing at your ankles and calves
as you dragged yourself down the hill?

were you thirsty by the time
you reached the bottom or did it take
until you were halfway down the road?

did the gravel leave an imprint
on the calloused heels of your hands
and tender flesh of your palms?

were the graves as you left them yesterday
bleached headstones skirted with neatly weeded grass
and flame hued geraniums in a jam jar?

NaPoWriMo #3: re-write

It's probably a bit early in the game to be pulling out the re-write card, but we've been at a family reunion at Zion National Park for the past week (that's a whole other post) and so I've got some catching up to do.

I originally wrote this poem back in Febrary 2009 and since then it's been through five drafts. For the past couple months I've been workshopping it in my poetry group, and am pleased with the direction it's taking—though I'm not completely satisfied with it yet. Here's the latest incarnation (from this afternoon).

My Valentine

You learned to cut making valentines
clipped carefully along pencil-traced lines
frustrated by each failed attempt
finally threw down pink plastic-handled scissors
cheeks flushed under freckles and hot tears

In that moment I stood still
stopped, saw myself reflected in
the fierce furrow between your brows
the stubborn set of your shoulder blades
the way you clenched your blunt scissors

I wished I could have taught you
before you learned to care too much
but I think you always have

So I breathed in, breathed out
smoothed your hair, stroked your back
took my own shears in hand
showed you how to make small, slow cuts
tried not to make my own too fast or straight

Cautious, you snipped, then cut
then shredded with assurance
through a sheaf of construction paper
I wondered at your persistence
praised every jagged heart of red, green, and blue

I wished I could have taught you
before I learned to care too much
but I know I always have.

Friday, April 02, 2010

NaPoWriMo #2: weather

I woke up to snow this morning: a half-inch or so sticking to the rooftops and starting to build up in the grass.

April Fooled

Nature's little joke:
sun-kissed skies on April first,
snow April second.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

NaPoWriMo #1: beachcombing

April is National Poetry Month, which for me means NaPoWriMo. Time again for a sustained burst of brief, intense, frenzied poetic scrawling—or typing, as the case may be.

I confess, I rarely write in longhand anymore, simply because the computer is so convenient and keeps the whirlwind of paper to a minimum. The following poem, however, did start its life on a sheet of notepaper, when a thought came to me yesterday morning while I was in the shower, and I scrambled to find something to write it down on before it escaped me. This morning when I sat down to flesh it out, it took on a life of its own and decided to be a tanka, which came as a surprise to me.

Beach Glass

Bright cobalt, sea foam,
bottle green shattered into
scattered shards too small
to be crushed again, frosted
smooth by turn of tide and time.