Question (of literacy) poem

On behalf of children, on Day Twenty-Three of National Poetry Month

Speaking Points (Do They?)

Glowing screen split into
graphs, trendlines, colors
a virtual sea of data
and faces of colleagues floating
with the question:
“You are the literacy person—
what do you think?”

What I think is that
there’s no secret code
or formula
or magic bullet
or any infallible translation
of impersonal little dots
scattered like breadcrumbs
leading to ponderous conclusions
about the beating heart
of a living, breathing child
and so I say,
“I don’t know what I think
until I hear this child read.”

For while the thunder of uncertainty rumbles
and pedagogies rise and fall
like generations
on billowing waves,
I cannot imagine the whole
of my own existence
crammed into little dots
for others to interpret
the magnitude of my story
or divining and defining
the scope of my future
without ever hearing
my voice

Child’s hands at the window. Nenad Stojkovic. CC BY

*******

with thanks to teacher-poet Angie Braaten for the suggestion of writing around “an important question you’ve been asked,” using this format:

Stanza 1: Question

Stanza 2: Answer

Stanza 3: Reflection

Unexpected poem

with thanks to Araceli, Deanna, and Michelle at #verselove on Ethical ELA today, for the invitation to write about someone who’s influenced your life, incorporating sensory details. My first inclination is to write of my grandparents – as I often do – but today, my aunt came to mind. I expect she’d be so surprised.

I am.

This one’s for her.

On Day Twenty-Two of National Poetry Month

A Poem for Earnie 

I didn’t expect to write of you today
but here I am, remembering
of all things, the tape recorder
your ready, set, go!
the click of your finger pressing play
and singing for all we were worth,
you, my little sister and me:
Wherever you go,
wherever you may wander in your life
Surely you know
I always want to be there…

one of us flubbing the words
all of us cracking up
you saying, I’ll rewind
let’s try it again

I think of your laughter
wild, free, contagious
your raucous humor
trailing you like an ermine robe
rich, resplendent, priceless
cloaking loneliness
I may not have perceived

The only one of my mother’s sisters
never to marry or have children
which didn’t keep you from giving advice
pressing Mama’s buttons
like no one else on Earth
yet she went and named her youngest daughter
after you

Then there were the wigs on
the featureless disembodied heads
sitting on your dresser
you could pick whatever 1970s hair you wanted
each day
how cool was that?

I can’t recall a thing you ever cooked
only that you loved eating
Mama said you were picky
you didn’t look it
Mama said that’s why you weren’t married
so picky that you didn’t get got

I wondered why you never really left home
living with Grannie most of your life
you’d break away for an apartment once or twice
but would always go back
like you needed to be
within the borders
of her shadow

Perhaps it will surprise you
that I recall the ceramics class you took
and the Pepto Bismol pink statuette
of Hotei, the Laughing Buddha
god of happiness and contentment
that you made for me
his hands thrown high to the heavens
Rub his big belly for good luck
each day,
you said
and I could hear the pleasure in your voice
only much later did I flip him over
to find your inscription of love
on the bottom of his pedestal

Funny how the dress you wore to my wedding
was Pepto Bismol pink
I am glad I asked you to be my wedding director
at Mama’s prodding
I remember the books you ran out to buy
to do the job well
for me

Of course there’s Jenny…
a love of your life
Siamese as picky as yourself
who’d curl in my lap
purring
That’s rare,
you’d say

Jenny who lived twelve years
who died in the fire
when you woke in the middle of the night
choking on the smoke
phone in your bedroom
hot to the touch
calling 9-1-1 for the first time
because it was
a brand-new thing
I don’t know how you roused
Grannie and Papa G in the other room
nor how any of you climbed out of the windows
onto the roof
into the freezing midnight air
and safety
as the firemen arrived
but you did it

in my mind, Mama’s voice:
It took three firemen to hold her
from going back in
for Jenny.
They found her
the next day
under Earnie’s window.

I hear your anguished sobs
even now
in those wee hours when you
arrived at our house to stay
reeking of smoke
so that the fur coat you wore
would have to be destroyed

I remember the clothes
you bought for my first baby
in bright, beautiful colors,
expensive
so lovingly chosen

You didn’t live to see my youngest
never knew of his gift for music
how you’d have loved it
I can see you right now,
tape recorder in hand

As the disease took your lungs
and reached its insidious fingers
into your brain
I recall the peculiar shine in your hollowed eyes
against the yellowing of your face

when you asked:
Are you still writing?
Have you published anything yet?

Yes and no, Earnie.
I am still writing, yes.
Long, long after we laid you to rest
in your pink dress
(Grannie had your nails painted to match)
and this isn’t really published
but it’s for you
I didn’t expect to be writing of you today
or singing Olivia Newton-John all of a sudden
after all these years,
but here I am
and here you are,
wherever I may wander
in my life
snatches of song, rolling laughter
here in my morning
here in my night.

Duality poem

with thanks to Brooke, Bailey and Ryan at #verselove on Ethical ELA yesterday. They challenged poets to create duality poems: “Alternative italics is where a poem is written with two meanings. The first meaning is the poem as a whole, and the second meaning is given to it through the italics. Most commonly, the two themes are fundamentally (or, at least, seemingly) opposed. Take two opposed ideas or concepts and make one the base. The other idea will be repeated throughout the poem and written in italics.”

Here is my take on the dual nature of the human heart…

For Day Twenty-One of National Poetry Month

What the Human Heart Craves

Peace
sweet peace
drifting earthward
as prayers float heavenward

Peace
enveloping souls
like winter coats
pulled from a magic wardrobe
thwarting winter’s chill

Peace
seeping inward
warms the heart
dwarfing all fear

Peace
is hardly for cowards.
It is
its own reward.

Peace dove. Jeff Attaway. CC BY

Tiny trembling life

One of my favorite things about spring is the return of the house finches, which build a nest and raise a little family on my front door wreath.

I am treated to a bird’s eye view of tiny life coming into the world.

As some of you know from previous posts, the finches built the nest last year but never laid any eggs. It was haunting, coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 shutdown. Barrenness. Emptiness. Loss.

They are making up for it this year.

Mama Finch laid five eggs during Holy Week; usually there are only three or four.

They’ve all hatched now and more pictures will be forthcoming, but here are the first two babies.

For the record, the collective noun for finches is a charm or a trembling.

A trembling charm of tiny new life upon my house:

For Day Twenty of National Poetry Month, a haiku:

Nature has her charms
Gifts of fragile new songbirds
Trembling abundance

Summertime poem

with thanks to Abigail, Betsy, and Soshi for the invitation to write on this topic for #verselove at Ethical ELA today (who’s not longing for summer right now?!).

Here’s why summer has such a special pull for me.

For Day Nineteen of National Poetry Month

Summer Second

Sunny afternoon
blue sky
bit of breeze
faint sound of a radio
from a neighbor’s yard
I can’t discern the song
it just sends me into 
reverie
for a second
conjuring
hot sand
under my bare feet
Coppertone in my nose
salt on my tongue
If everybody had an ocean
across the USA
then everybody’d be surfin’
like Californ-i-ay…

snatches of conversation
cresting and dipping
on the breeze
mighty waves of memory
crashing on the shore
my father’s big black sandals
flip-flopping to the old navy-blue Ford
the battered brown Samsonite
suitcase in his hand
the ride is so long
so long
the city gives way
to pastures, meadows
horses
fields
that go on and on, forever
plowed furrows running
like long crazy legs
to keep up 
with the Ford
as we zoom past
until at last
the lonesome highway
comes to a fork
on the left,
the tiny church
where my ancestors
sleep under stones
we veer to the right
turning 
onto the dirt road
my heart beats faster
Daddy drives slower
stirring clouds of dust
and I am already
grabbing the door handle
as Granddaddy’s lush garden 
comes into view
with just a glimpse of 
Grandma’s white angel birdbath
circled by orange marigolds
through the laundry 
lazily flapping
on the clothesline
and there they are, 
walking across
the green, green grass
and I am out of the Ford
before it’s hardly stopped
and in their arms
in the blinding sun
as the forest stands tall
all around
with its cool
dark mysteries
where the rattling cicadas
crescendo
vibrating on and on and on
through my soul
I can’t discern the song
it just carries me
through eternity
in this one
bright second

“Wire structure” poem

with thanks to Jennifer Jowett on #verslove at Ethical ELA today. Jennifer used the idea of wire structures and blind contour drawing to inspire today’s invitation to compose: “Today, trust the pathway of your words. Find a starting point and let the words take you where they want. You might find yourself meandering, stopping here and there to absorb, or moving quickly until you reach a finish. You might play with extensive enjambment to keep the eye moving continuously. Or you might try something else entirely. Your journey is yours to explore.”

Just this week, the opening line of this poem came to me. As did the last. I wrote them down so I could figure out what to do with them…then came today’s prompt. I dedicate this “wire structure poem” to children…young and grown…your interpretation is your own.

For Day Eighteen of National Poetry Month

Double Helix, Pulled Apart

separated
by walls we didn’t make

shattered
by hearts we didn’t break

scattered
by paths we didn’t take

yet eternally connected

by blood we cannot take
away

by cords we cannot break
away

by history we cannot make
aright

scattered

shattered

separated 

perhaps united in silent ache
today
that love will find
a way

Photo: Peter Alfred Hess. CC BY

Living traits poem

with thanks to Gayle and Annie in today’s #VerseLove at Ethical ELA, at this invitation: “The goal is to select a character trait or an emotion and give it a back story. How did they get to be who they are now?  Fill in the details–what they wear, where they travel, who they hang out with. Have fun with the creature you meet and get to know them a little better. Take it past the formal definition of personification into something bigger (or smaller…) than that. Make them into a living, breathing, quirky individual.”

It just so happens that my “one little word” for the year is awe. How can I resist the chance to personify her? She is leaning in even now, to see what I will write…and waiting to be revealed.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a little poem that remains one of my favorites: Awe (The Blue Hour). If you click on that link you can scroll past the intro to find the poem. Today I attempt to rework it for Awe personified. With her help, of course.

For Day Seventeen of National Poetry Month

Awe 

She slips into the world quietly
born on the blue hour
at the falling away of day
and the coming of the night
unexpected but longed-for child
of Reverend Reverence and his indigenous wife
Waking Beauty

she takes their breath away
at first sight
they weep as they embrace
their tiny perfect child

Awe grows up studying the stars
under Waking Beauty’s tutelage
At her father’s knee, she listens
to stories of dreams and their interpretations
loving the sound of his rich, resonant voice
and the rustling of his fingers turning fragile pages

She thinks, When I grow up, I want to weave blankets
of stars and dreams and give them away
free for the taking

She thinks it, but Awe doesn’t speak it aloud
in fact, her parents grow worried
that she may never speak
until she startles them one gray, misty morning
by bursting forth in song at the breakfast table
her voice so high and pure
that Waking Beauty spills the juice
and Reverend Reverence nearly falls of his chair
instead he kneels in thanksgiving
while her mother dabs her eyes with a napkin

Awe sings for a moment
crystal notes hanging in the air
before dissolving into giggles
just as a shaft of sunlight
spills through the window

She decides she’ll be an artist

In smock and beret, palette poised
she considers the blank canvas
envisioning
at last determining
that there is no blue
without yellow and orange
and dips her brush

It is not enough for her to recreate nature
however

Awe must live and breathe it
and through it

So she walks in every season
through the countryside
through city streets
often wearing her cloak
of invisibility
undetected until
someone brushes against her
and realizes she’s there

she picks her moments
for revealing her presence
a peek at a time
of herself behind the cloak
smiling at transfigured faces
yes, full revelation
would be entirely too much

Awe is tireless in her weaving
of experiences
swimming the oceans
undaunted by depths and mysteries
scaling the mountains
unperturbed by heights and ice
she goes on through the storms
in the lightning, in the havoc
even in the horror
she is there
especially in
the aftermath
when people band together
to begin healing
one another

She stops by the house of worship
and lingers in the stillness
just waiting

the bird on the rooftop
understands
and sings
for all he is worth

Awe walks on
through shadowed back alleys
warming her hands
over the crackling fires
in our souls
at her whisper, we
beckon one another
to stop, come and be warm
instead of passing by
in blue wisps of smoke
curling upward and outward
in tendrils of wrongs

yes, even in the deepest darkness
Awe slips in quietly
carrying her candle
illuminating faces
and nodding at her reflection
in the eyes of those who see

silently offering her free blanket woven
of stars and dreams
and the color of forgiveness
in the blue hour

My drawing- the landscape spells AWE. Enhanced with Cartoona.

*******

also shared with with the Poetry Friday community, with gratitude to all and especially to Jama today for hosting

Habit acrostic

with thanks to Ruth Ayres at SOS – Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, for reiterating this truth: “Habit is essential for writers. If we develop a habit that allows us to enter into writing, then we will write more often.” She encourages the “magic” community to pay attention to the routines that make blog writing happen.

I am a morning writer. I love the rich, dark silence of the sleeping world around me, the freedom to hear my own uncluttered thoughts, the anticipation of gifts from the burgeoning day. I love the neighbor’s rooster, how his loud crowing wafts through the stillness; there are a few roosters in this neighborhood and sometimes they echo each other in a chorus of wild, rustic, joyful aliveness. It is a song of my soul. For a second, I have a sense of my young grandfather a hundred years ago, preparing for his farm chores, walking the fertile land he cultivated and loved all of his life, as darkness turns to light.

And so I write.

An acrostic, for Day Sixteen of National Poetry Month

Hallowed
Are these moments
Before the dawn
Immersed in words
The breathings of my being

If you are looking to write more or to develop a blogging habit, consider joining the vibrant community
at SOS – Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.

Title poem

with thanks to Dr. Stefani Boutelier on Ethical ELA’s #VerseLove today. She writes of the way a title can change the interpretation of a poem, or how it might add layers of metaphor: “I invite you to write a poem where the title helps identify its content, theme, or purpose. The topic and form are up to you–the focus today is on the title.”

I will share my poem’s title at the end.

For Day Fifteen of National Poetry Month

The stories
of time before my time
I lived them
through your telling
felt them through
your pounding heart
breathed them
with your young lungs
until I wanted to run
coughing from
the reek of smoke
the acrid taste of ash
and I think of
how you spent your years
giving yourself
to others
despite the ghosts
that surely clung
as smoke clings to clothing
and as I enter the doorway
I can hardly breathe
for the cloying scent of flowers
and there you are on the table
ready and waiting
in your little box
conveniently resting
in a little white tote
I dare not trust the handles
I just wrap my arms around you
and carry you against my heart
like I did my babies
only there’s no car seat needed now

still, I must keep you safe
in your new lightness
so I strap the seatbelt across us both
pondering the measure of a man
larger than life
so reduced

but I’ve got you, I’ve got you
cradled close
see now, I’m driving you home
sun and shadows flickering
over us like old newsreels
of liberation

******

Title: What Remains

Dedicated to my father-in-law, a World War II veteran.

His birthday is next week.

Hope quatrain

with thanks to Dr. Padma Venkatraman and the Ethical ELA #VerseLove invitation to write a quatrain today on hope, especially, hope overcoming hate: What does hope mean to me? How do I see it? She suggested using a metaphor.

I see hope is as vital to our existence as humans. When I started this blog, I wanted it it to be uplifting and hopeful. The world already has far too much anger and hatred. I struggled with condensing a metaphor for hope that would fit in four lines! I finally settled on a sunflower. It’s too big for all I would say here in regard to hope overcoming hate. Maybe I will try it in another form later. Part of my inspiration comes from sunflowers being planted to absorb radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Technically lines one and three should rhyme but I claim poetic license.

For Day Fourteen of National Poetry Month

Hope Perpetuates

Hope turns its face to the sun
Warming its myriad seeds
Hope’s roots absorb toxins
Cleansing each soul that it feeds.

Sunflower. metin.gul. CC BY