Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NaPoWriMo #18: fashion faux pas

Sometimes when I write after a certain time of night (which varies, depending on how long my day has been) that my poems cross the line into ridiculousness--for instance, a tanka about the wrong outfit. Oh, well.

Fashion Faux Pas

Those purple patent
alligator shoes with a
red and green floral
velvet dress? It seemed like a
good idea at the time.

NaPoWriMo #17: ghazal

I discovered last year that when I get in a rut, it's good to try something new. A few prompts ago, NaPoWriMo.net suggested the ghazal, so I gave it a try.

The Fall

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
(Genesis 3:1)

I will greatly multiply thy sorrow
said God unto the woman; in sorrow

thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire
shall be to thy husband. Oh, what sorrow

for he shall rule over thee and I will
multiply thy conception and sorrow

greatly. The woman knew the tree was good
for food, to be desired not for sorrow

but to make one wise, and it was pleasant
to the eyes. She took the fruit of sorrow

did eat thereof, and gave unto the man
that he not be left alone to sorrow

in the garden, and he did eat. Then said
the woman to man, Passing through sorrow

is better for us, that we may know the
bitter from the sweet, the depths of sorrow

from the mountain’s height; therefore, it is right
to sweat, to bear children, to eat of sorrow

all the days of our lives. And so man took
her hand and they left the garden. Sorrow

awaited them, for out of dust they came
and to dust they would return—but sorrow

showed them sweetness in the work, sweat, children.
Light must have dark, and joy must have sorrow.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

NaPoWriMo #16: family history

So, I'm still behind--by even more, now. I've been tired this week and have had to cut back where I could (sorry, Ruth). But I'm still committed to this, and am not giving up (not yet!)

Today's poem started coming to me when I woke up at 6 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. I've been working at it off and on all morning. It feels like there are still some pieces that may be missing, but I don't know what they are. Maybe a whole other poem? We'll see. But here's the piece that makes sense now.

Gold Rush

In August 1897
my great-great-grandfather
left Seattle aboard the steamer Rosalie
made his way north with the horde
in what he called
“the great race for gold”
by way of Skagway, the Dyea Trail
Sheep Camp, Chilkoot Pass
Lake LeBarge, Yukon River
finally reaching Dawson City
later that October.

He kept a diary, wrote
how he learned the use of gum boots
was to keep his feet not dry, but warm
how he paid 75 cents at Sheep Camp
for a meal of bacon and beans
hot biscuits and coffee
how he missed his son and two daughters
those “dear ones” left behind
how he packed boat lumber on his back
up Chilkoot Pass
rather than pay five cents on the pound
for a packer to do it.

The diary stops after January 11, 1898.

What he didn’t write was
how his wife returned with the children
to her parents in Massachusetts
before the end of 1897
how he worked as a clerk in Dawson
even after staking his claim
how he went south after the gold rush
worked as an architect in California
married again twice
how he mailed the diary
to his youngest daughter
but never saw her again
how he counted the cost
of the load he chose
one he couldn’t pay someone else
to carry.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

NaPoWriMo #15: oxymoron

Earlier in the month, NaPoWriMo.net offered this prompt: use an oxymoron as the basis for your poem. They provided a convenient link to the Serendipitous Oxymoron Maker, which generated for me among others, "miserable miracle". I filed that away in my notes, waiting for it to settle and speak to me.

Then, last night, after our public library's first annual National Poetry Month open mic, I was chatting with my friend Elizabeth about what I'd been writing lately. For the open mic, I read two older poems, as well as the newly penned Lacuna, which generated some great feedback. Elizabeth has read most of the poetry I've written about my miscarriages, and she asked if I'd written anything recently about being pregnant. I had to say no.

I've reflected on it lately, knowing I want to write about my pregnancy, but just not sure where I want to go with it--which is what I told Elizabeth. Well, here's a start--today I looked at "miserable miracle" and it suddenly said something.

Miserable Miracle

In this
my fifth and final pregnancy
I am reminded
of the miserable miracle
it is to bear children

from the moment
I feel in my gut
conscious without knowing
the presence of this life
I sense, too
a combined weight
of joy and sorrow

I recognize my own lack
of power to prevent
what I dread most
frees me from the burden
of trying to stop it

each day of nausea
when my stomach rebels
at any given sight or smell
is a gift
because it means
my child continues
to grow

I have learned to hope
in the face of uncertainty
because anything less than nine months
may be too short of a time
to carry a child
but it is too long to carry fear

my body is possessed
changing in ways
I can’t control or fathom
opening its petals
in the radiance
of its own private sun

my soul enlarges
in the realization
that in spite
and because of
this transformation
my heart, like my body
is stretching beyond
what it has ever known.

NaPoWriMo #14: forecast

A while back I was checking the weather report, probably on Wunderground.com (my meteorologist of choice), and noticed the phrase "90% chance of precipitation". Sometimes a word or phrase just hits me sideways, and this was the case. I jotted it down with the note, "a poem that needs to be written." It was long enough ago, I don't remember exactly the sense of what it was I felt I needed to write, but today, with spring sun filtering through the curtains, this is what came of it.

90% Chance of Precipitation

I always laugh
when I read or hear this phrase
and wonder
does it mean
rain 90 % of the time
rain in 90% of this area
or just
rain is 90% more likely
than something else
or even
we're saying precipitation
instead of rain
because we're not sure exactly what
will be falling from the sky
and need to cover our bets

I always laugh
when I read or hear this phrase
while feeling on my face
the radiant glow
of sun slicing through clouds
and sense somehow
I’ve beaten the odds.

Friday, April 15, 2011

NaPoWriMo #13: rant or rave

Sooo...halfway through the month and I'm a couple poems behind. No biggie; the weekend is the best possible time to get caught up. Once again I turned to NaPoWriMo.net for a prompt. Today it was to write a hymn to something bad, or a complaint about something good. Being in a sort of glass-is-half-empty mood, I chose the former.

In Praise Those People (You Don’t Know Who You Are, and it’s Probably Better That Way)

Where would I be
without those people
the ones I see coming
and want to run
in the opposite direction
the ones who say
the least sensitive thing
at the time I least need to hear it
the ones who ask me as a favor
something they just don’t want to learn
to do for themselves
the ones who twist imitation
that sincerest form of flattery
into a profound insult
the ones who manage
to turn every “how are you?”
into a conversation about themselves
the ones who provide
the best possible excuse for staying home
from work, church, store, library, restaurant
gym, book club, post office, salon
where would I be
without those people
the ones who remind me
I, too have done
all those same things?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

NaPoWriMo #12: take five

As in, five minutes to write a poem. That was one of the prompts at NaPoWriMo.net, and once again I thank them for a good prompt, and the permission to just get something, anything, on paper. I'm not even sure what this is about--just a bunch of stream-of-unconsciousness images that were suddenly there.

Five Minute Poem

This is the place where my back
is up against clammy vinyl
wallpaper over cracked plaster
where I smell my own sweat
and wonder if anyone else can, too
where my mouth tastes like copper
as though I’m holding a penny
under my tongue
this is where my knuckles crack
as I brace them between me and the wall
the place where I wonder
if anything will ever change
if tomorrow the sun will still rise
if I will still be chained
to this monster who knows my name
sucks my blood through a straw
leaves me sinking slowly down the wall
until I lie weak on the cold boards
of the kitchen floor
in a puddle of sour milk
and sweat.

NaPoWriMo #11: good grief

I know, I know--another poem about loss. What can I say? Working through grief is a good thing, and I'm still working.

Eight Faces of Loss

I wear the first
as I pull my eyes from an ultrasound screen
look my obstetrician in the eye
then tell my children
our baby has gone back to heaven
I tell them it is okay to cry
while I hold back my own tears.

I wear the second
as I buckle seatbelts
pull side door closed
stand outside our minivan
tears streaming, cell phone in hand
to break the news to my husband.

I wear the third
as I wait
wait for the drugs to work
wait for my cervix to ripen
wait for labor to begin
wait to see the child
I will only hold once.

I wear the fourth
as I come home to an empty house
my husband in Atlanta on business
my children with my in-laws
and finally
I fall apart.

I wear the fifth
as I drive my children home
from grandma’s house
tell them they had a brother
and his name was Daniel.

I wear the sixth
every time I see a friend
who is still pregnant
and walk away
without speaking.

I wear the seventh
as I turn inward with everything
that has already been said and felt
because saying it a thousand times
feeling it every moment of every day
will never be enough.

I wear the eighth
as I realize though I lost my child
I never lost faith
as I see grief and joy coexist
in the same second
as I learn I can navigate this place
for which I have no map.

Settling in

Apologies to my sister Ruth, who I hear is chomping at the bit for more NaPoWriMo. Soon, I promise. But meanwhile...

Meet the newest member of the family.

Sid came into our lives over the weekend. On Saturday we noticed him meowing up on our roof, but didn't think much of it--we see a lot of neighborhood cats up there, and they always seem to find their way down without too much trouble.

Then on Sunday, as we were getting home from church, we saw him again---looking and sounding rather frantic. Our neighbor, who was in his driveway packing his truck, commented that this was the third day he had seen the cat on the roof. We had no idea it had been so long and felt terrible. Jim borrowed an extension ladder from his dad and climbed up to do a rescue. The cat came right to him and though he seemed scared of the height, he let Jim carry him down the ladder without a struggle.

We set out canned cat food and a water dish on the front porch, and watched him while he ate. No collar or tags, but he seemed quite friendly--when he had his fill, he waltzed right in through our open front door and made himself at home. Jimmy was sure it was the same cat that had belonged to some neighbors across the street who moved six months ago.

I had a sneaking suspicion Jim left the front door open on purpose, and was surprised he seemed so ready to adopt Sid, in spite of his winning personality. Back when Will died, Jim said he had no desire to get another cat anytime soon. So on Sunday afternoon, I grilled him about it. All Jim would say was, "I'm a sucker for a hard case, and it doesn't get much harder than being stuck on a roof for three days with nothing to eat."

Jimmy suggested we call him Obsidian, which Jim shortened to Sid. First thing on Monday we took Sid down to the pound, but no one had reported him lost, and he didn't have a microchip. On the plus side, he was already neutered. By that time, too, he had started hammering out all the little feline territorial snags with Fiona and getting acclimated.

The kids love him and it's mutual; he spends a lot of time hanging around and watching them while they play, and is very patient and gentle.

We snapped this last night when we went in to check on Audrey before calling it a night.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

NaPoWriMo #10: solitude

I've always loved being by myself--maybe because I grew up in a full house, where solitude was hard to find--and because now as a homeschooling mom, I have very little time to be alone.

I've found that as much as I consider myself an extrovert and am energized after spending time with friends, I need in equal measure time to myself: to reflect, to write, to just be. I was talking the other night with a friend who really struggles with the idea of spending time alone, even though she knows she would benefit from doing so. This poem was inspired by that conversation.


She fears being alone
mistaking it for being lonely
and so she suspends herself
on razor-thin stained glass wings
hovering from one contact to another
mistaking connection
for communion
while the weight
of those exquisite wings
keeps her from heights
she was born to reach.

Monday, April 11, 2011

NaPoWriMo #9: spring

Gray Time

In that hour before dawn
when the world has no colors
and you cannot tell a starling from a grackle
or a sparrow from a chickadee
unless you hear their song
you still know they are back
from their southern sojourn.

In that hour before spring
when the maples, elms and sycamores
wear only their rumpled, hoary husks
by the first light of day
you can still see the outline of new buds
bursting from the tips of lilac branches
and know the trees will follow soon.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NaPoWriMo #8: why

Have you ever had a kid ask you a question, only to follow up the answer with "But, why?"

Yeah, me too.

The Hard Questions

They are the ones
who ask me the hard questions.

“Where is the pain
on a scale of one to ten?”
(Between 7 and 8.)

“What are your plans
for the baby’s remains?”
(I need to give that some thought.)

even those questions
disguised as statements,
“We’ve got a narrow window here
to test for genetic abnormalities.”
(Like I told you before,
I’m not interested in testing.)

they are the ones
who ask me
“Mom, why did our baby die?”
(I don’t know, honey.)

“Which parts weren’t growing right?”
(The doctors couldn’t tell.)

“Will we have another baby?”
(We’ll see, sweetheart. We’ll see.)

They are the ones
who ask me the hard questions
questions that school me
with answers I don’t know
outcomes I can’t control.
(We’ll see, sweetheart. We’ll see.)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

NaPoWriMo #7: curriculum vitae

My friend Steve from my poetry group recently finished an excellent CV poem and challenged the rest of us to try it. I did one for NaPoWriMo last year, but recently I've been ruminating on a different direction to take on the concept--my CV as a mother.

How appropriate that pregnancy was the catalyst to get me writing this; at 3:30 this morning I woke up after a particularly bizarre dream and found myself with insomnia (both things that happen often when I'm expecting).

Written when and how this was , it is a very, very rough first draft. In fact, as I read it, I'm almost not wanting to post it because I realize it's an uneven mix of imagery and narrative--but that's the beauty of NaPoWriMo. I write a lot of fresh, raw stuff, and figure out what works, what doesn't and what has the potential to be developed further.

Resume of a Reluctant Mother

I was born the first of five children
to a good man and good woman
who were each lonely before marriage
and lonelier after.

My early childhood was a happy haze
of beaches, blackberries and books.
My father had an unnamed rage
used the belt on us
like an artist uses paint on canvas
but sang us to sleep at bedtime.
My mother had an unnamed sorrow
her children couldn't know or fix
gave us no boundaries
but sewed our clothes
and baked bread in yeast cans.

The last half of my childhood
I spent as a third parent
while my mother and father took turns
trying to run away
from discontent at home.
I was babysitter, cook
laundry washer and ironer
tyrannical big sister
and unwilling partaker
in my parents' disaffection.
When I was sixteen
my father and mother gave up the fight
of staying together for their children
and for a year or two
we were all happier.

At the end of my senior year
my parents remarried
within a month of each other.
We stayed with my mother and stepfather
got four new brothers and sisters
grieving a mother lost to cancer
just a year before.
I was still the oldest
and at eighteen, took my own turn
running away from home.

At twenty-five I married
terrified but hopeful
I would not repeat my parents' mistakes.
Instead, I made my own.
I waited too long to have children
traded stamina and immaturity
for patience and rigidity.
In the end it was a fair trade
for motherhood came hard to me.
I thought it would be different
with my own children
if I chose to have them
loved them because they were mine.
Instead, I found myself
living out my own unnamed sorrow
one that brought back the agony
of responsibilities I hadn't chosen or wanted
except this time, I had.

This time, I could only blame myself.
I could, and did
but now I'm done blaming.

I've decided this story will have a happy ending.
I've decided sorrow and joy can and do coexist.
I've decided I can be a mother
without that being who I am.
I've decided I can love my children
my husband and myself
all at the same time
because I have enough love to go around.
I've decided to let go of resentment
again and again
as many times as it takes.
I've decided to be grateful to my parents.
I've decided to make peace
with my mistakes and flaws
for they have shaped me but do not define me.
I've decided that while I didn't always know
I wanted to be a mother
I do now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

NaPoWriMo #6: RIP

Now for something completely different.

I went to NaPoWriMo.net for a little inspiration, and really liked their prompt from a few days back: write a poem predicting your own death. I decided to have a bit of fun with it. So, it's goofy and not very good in terms of actual poetry, but so what? It features bacon, and you ought to know by now how I feel about bacon.


She lived a long and happy life.

It ended unexpectedly
in the middle of a BLT

to which she had added avocado
for she liked the contrast
of flavor and texture
crunchy against smooth
smoky against mellow
accented by crisp greens
tangy tomato
and of course, the extra zip
of sourdough bread

that smooth avocado betrayed her
in the end
sliding a large bite of bacon
too soon down her throat
where it lodged
and refused to be loosed

a pity she lived alone
her husband gone just a year
no one to hear
her choking
no one to see
her lips turn blue
though it’s true

eating a BLT
would be
a good way to go.

NaPoWriMo #5: scraps

I liked the "scraps" prompt I used last year so much, I'm recycling it for this year. The scraps I used today are from a few lines I jotted down when I was in the hospital last June. My friend Erica, who had lost a little boy at 24 weeks just two years before I lost my baby boy, was with me.

She told me how after her own loss, she had felt like a field that had been plowed and planted, but with no harvest. Then, just a few days later, her milk came in. She was devastated, and in so much pain physically as well.

Erica's sharing her experience with me, and then being at my side through much of my own miscarriage, was a tremendous source of strength for me. So, this is a sad poem but hope comes after it.


The field, planted
in fertile furrows
a rich corduroy of rows.

The seeds, sown
soak up rain
that smells of April.

We watch
we wait
for the first green shoots to appear.

And in the steady sun
of the growing season
they do.

Then, without warning
without reason
those fragile leaves
shrivel on their stalks
scatter in a gust of warm wind
and are gone.

They leave only empty arms
and one reminder
of the hoped-for harvest:

swollen, tender breasts
sagging under the weight
of unsuckled milk
that will
all too soon
dry up
and be gone.

Monday, April 04, 2011

NaPoWriMo #4: homesick

On a completely unrelated note (that is, completely unrelated to much of anything else I've been writing about lately), I've been finding myself homesick for the ocean. We went to Seattle a couple weeks ago to buy new clothes for Jimmy, who is in the midst of a long-overdue growth spurt. The weather wasn't great, so we didn't make it to the beach, and we never got close enough to Puget Sound for me to smell it.

Really, though, I'm missing the ocean. As in, the coast. Sadly, I think it's a trip that will have to wait a while. At least I can dream about last time I was there...


The woman who lives next door
has never seen the sea
she surveys this green valley
two hundred miles inland
carved out of shrub steppe
by a deceptively narrow, strong river
and is satisfied.

And I am satisfied, too
for this farm town is a fine place
to raise a family, to lie grounded
for a time
in the loamy bosom of all earth.

But it is not the place I was born
not the place circled by gulls
where I smelled sea in every breath
where I roamed rocky beaches
where stony earth embraces fluid ocean
where I will live again before I die.

NaPoWriMo #3: awad

For a few months now I've been subscribing to A Word A Day, which my friend Lizzie recommended to me. I've always been a word junkie, a voracious appropriator of new vocabulary, so I really enjoy AWAD because it features not only large words, but those that are unusual as well.

Back on February 24, the word for the day was "lacuna", which intrigued me--I really think it was the idea of an "empty space" that spoke to me--so I jotted the word down knowing I would come back to write about it.

Flash forward to this evening: here I am in need of a prompt, and voilà!


Here is a hole
a small space
as though I dropped a stitch
or two
in my neat row
of knit, purl, knit, purl
no one would ever know
unless I pointed it out.

Here is a hole
a narrow gap
as though I broke a teacup
or two
in my neat row
of plate, bowl, teacup, saucer
no one would ever know
unless I pointed it out.

Here is a hole
an empty place
as though I lost a child
or two
in my neat row
of boy, girl—
and that is all.

No one would ever know
unless I pointed it out.

Eight (a week late)

A week ago today, Jimmy turned eight. Fortunately (since Audrey came down with stomach flu that very night) we planned his party for Saturday. Jimmy had asked for a volcano-themed party, so the kids erupted mini-volcanoes they made out of play-dough, yogurt cups, baking soda and vinegar.

Jim made the super-awesome volcano cake. Evil genius, I tell you.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

NaPoWriMo #2: opposition in all things

This started out as a tanka...

Don't fear pain; it is
the bones of joy--not only
a hard frame giving
shape, but marrow running soft
through the core of happiness.

...and then morphed to haiku as the details solidified.


Pain is the pulse of
quiet marrow giving shape
to the bones of joy.

Friday, April 01, 2011

NaPoWriMo #1: stomach flu

Audrey has been sick the better part of this week with stomach flu. Funny what inspires you when you're laying in bed trying to fall asleep after doing vomit patrol...

1:23 A.M.

Pulled back from the edge of sleep
by your moans in the next room
I fumble from bed
hurry to hold up a bucket
gently rub your back
while your small body rocks with heaves.
Daddy follows me, waits beside you
to dump the bucket when you’re done.

This is the second night of stomach flu.

The first night, you vomited six times
cried to your father and me
“Make it stop!”
We changed the bedding twice
finally left it with a few small stains
just so we could all get some sleep.
You waited until morning
when I tried to give you juice
to finish off the third set of sheets.

All the next day
our washing machine hummed.
Blankets and pillows kept unbalancing each load
so I would rearrange the sopping, soapy mess
close the top, cross my fingers
repeat the process two or three times
then lean against the cool steel
steadying myself against the spin cycle
gagging at the vomit smell
of a nearby basket of still-unwashed linens
that reawakened my dormant morning sickness.

This afternoon I folded basketfuls
of warm, clean laundry
felt in the patient grace of each fold
as I do now
even in gripping the cold plastic rim of this bucket
how I love you.

It's up!

"Día de los Angelitos," which appeared in its earliest incarnation last November, is now up at Boston Literary Magazine. Most of my poems are quite personal, but for one so deeply as this, it's especially gratifying to see it published.