Progressive poem is here

So, April has had a number of firsts for me, beyond “first pandemic.”

It’s the first time I’ve attempted to write a poem a day for National Poetry Month. My first plunge into Poetry Fridays.

And this is the first time I’ve participated in a Progressive Poem.

Our poem was born on the first day of April, with the first poet writing two lines. The next poet chose one of those lines and left two more for the subsequent poet to choose from … and so the poem grew in stature and whimsical beauty as it rolled all the way down to me on Day 29.

Here’s how it was up ’til now:

Sweet violets shimmy, daffodils sway
along the wiregrass path to the lake.
I carry a rucksack of tasty cakes
and a banjo passed down from my gram.

I follow the tracks of deer and raccoon
and echo the call of a wandering loon.
A whispering breeze joins in our song
and night melts into a rose gold dawn.

Deep into nature’s embrace, I fold.
Promise of spring helps shake the cold.
Hints of sun lightly dapple the trees
calling out the sleepy bees.

Leaf-litter crackles…I pause. Twig snaps.
I gasp! Shudder! Breathe out. Relax…
as a whitetail doe comes into view.
She shifts and spotted fawns debut.

We freeze. My green eyes and her brown
Meet and lock. Time slows down.
I scatter the cakes, backing away
Safely exiting this strange ballet.

I continue the path that winds down to the lake.
Missing my breakfast for beauty’s sake.
But wait, what’s that delicious smell?
Something familiar, I know so well.

It’s a campfire. I follow my nose. I see
a circle of friends waving at me.
I free up my banjo, quicken my pace

And here were my two choices for the next line:

Option 1: Find a place to sit and gaze into space
Option 2: Find a place to sit and unlatch my banjo case

And I gotta choose it, because it’s just so musical (pun intended):

(are you ready?)

(really ready??)

Option 1: Find a place to sit and gaze into space (!)

So here we have it:

Sweet violets shimmy, daffodils sway
along the wiregrass path to the lake.
I carry a rucksack of tasty cakes
and a banjo passed down from my gram.

I follow the tracks of deer and raccoon
and echo the call of a wandering loon.
A whispering breeze joins in our song
and night melts into a rose gold dawn.

Deep into nature’s embrace, I fold.
Promise of spring helps shake the cold.
Hints of sun lightly dapple the trees
calling out the sleepy bees.

Leaf-litter crackles…I pause. Twig snaps.
I gasp! Shudder! Breathe out. Relax…
as a whitetail doe comes into view.
She shifts and spotted fawns debut.

We freeze. My green eyes and her brown
Meet and lock. Time slows down.
I scatter the cakes, backing away
Safely exiting this strange ballet.

I continue the path that winds down to the lake.
Missing my breakfast for beauty’s sake.
But wait, what’s that delicious smell?
Something familiar, I know so well.

It’s a campfire. I follow my nose. I see
a circle of friends waving at me.
I free up my banjo, quicken my pace
Find a place to sit and gaze into space.

—Now what?

Apparently I have to compose two lines.

I then hand the poem to the thirtieth and last poet in the line of succession, Michelle Kogan.

Dear Michelle … I leave my two lines to you for your choosing. The chosen line will, however, be hanging out there by its lonely self at the end of all these lovely quatrains. What if you add your own line after mine and we end as a couplet? You can also have the distinction of titling our collective masterpiece! Such choices!

Here’s what I’ve got:

Option 1: Then my fingers pick out the old, old tune

Option 2: Then together we sing, and the song is our story

Thank you, poet-friends, for this alluring, ambling April adventure. It’s an honor to have walked this path in your company.

Here’s the progression of the poem:

1 Donna Smith at Mainely Write
2 Irene Latham at Live Your Poem
3 Jone MacCulloch, deowriter
Liz Steinglass
Buffy Silverman
6 Kay McGriff at https://kaymcgriff.edublogs.org/
7 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
8 Tara Smith at Going to Walden
9 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
10 Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme

11 Janet Fagel, hosted at Reflections on the Teche
12 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
13 Kat Apel at Kat Whiskers
14 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
15 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
16 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
17 Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
18 Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading
19 Tabatha at Opposite of Indifference
20 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
21 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
22 Julieanne Harmatz at To Read, To Write, To Be
23 Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
24 Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wandering

25 Amy at The Poem Farm
26 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work That Matters
27 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge

28 Jessica Bigi at Mainely Write
29 Fran Haley at lit bits and pieces
30 Michelle Kogan

I am from poem

How have I lived to be this old without attempting an “I Am From” poem?

A rectification …

I am from sharp pencils
from Ivory soap and Duke’s mayonnaise
I am from the secret vault under the concrete back steps
(cool, cobwebby, smelling of ghosts)
I am from gardenias
from towering Eastern pines
heavy boughs whispering
waving to me like a vertical green sea
I’m from storytelling and dogs
from Columbus and Ruby
I’m from Reader’s Digest and gospel music
From “You’re the oldest, set the example”
and “take care of your precious self”
I’m from Jesus Loves Me, red-letter Bibles, put your offering in the plate
I’m from the riverside and the shipyard
from collards with hot pepper vinegar and carrot cake from scratch
From my father’s crew-cut ever since his head was pierced
by a friend’s cleats in a childhood game of deer and dog,
from three translucent pink moles on Grandma’s chin.
In trunks and in closeted boxes my grandmother’s painstaking albums
rest atop layers of loose photos, paper strata of many eras.
I am etched deep in this phosphorite, the living reliquary
of all the stories.

Earth song of life: cicadas

My love for the sound of cicadas is a recurring motif in my writing.

It stems from childhood summers spent with my grandparents in the country, the most idyllic days of my existence.

In thinking of Earth Day, my first inclination is to write on In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

That verse, Genesis 3:19 in the King James, conjures images from At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Here’s Bill Bryson’s observations of country churchyards in England where churches seem to be sinking into the ground: Think about it. A country parish like this has an average of 250 people in it, which translates into roughly a thousand adults deaths per century, plus a few thousand more poor souls who didn’t make it to maturity. Multiply that by the number of centuries that the church has been here and you can see that what you have here is not eighty or a hundred burials but probably something more on the order of, say, twenty thousand … that’s a lot of mass, needless to say. It’s why the ground has risen three feet.

In other words … we are the earth.

Times being the pandemic they are, death surrounds us. April 22 also marks the anniversary of the sudden passing of my husband’s father at the age of fifty-four. My husband was just twelve.

But I do not wish to turn Earth Day into a death knell.

I write about cicadas today because they lie in the earth and emerge—some after seventeen years—to sing their song of life.

In the thick woods and byways of North Carolina, from May through September, it’s a deafening cacophony; but as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there is beauty in the ear of the listener.

In honor of Earth Day, a “found poem,” of sorts, from a former blog post I wrote, entitled Cicada Rhythms:

The song of cicadas
calls to me
from long ago
from sultry summers
in the country
where narrow dirt roads
keep an ominous forest
from encroaching
on rustic homeplaces
from tiny cemeteries
where baby after baby
is buried
under white monuments
adorned with lambs
at the old church
just around the bend.
The song is of the ages
of the rising and falling
of generations
all of us coming and going
in our time
a song reverberating
from oaks, pines,
cypresses
across canals
teeming with frogs
and turtles
to white-tailed deer
standing along the fields
at dusk.
It is the bright song
of the sun
of hope
of continuity.
It is the dark song
of the night
oddly comforting—
something out in the blackness
is vibrant, alive
maybe keeping watch
while children
drift off to sleep.
It is the sound
of safety
of stability
of belonging.
Calling, calling
the crescendo mirrors
the rhythm of life
brimming with promise
echoing eternity.
When I hear it
I am a child again
no matter
how many summers
have come and gone.
Every spring as I mark
another year of existence
I listen
for the first rattle.
You’re back! my heart sings.
Ah, but we were here all along
they might say
if cicadas had words.
There’s a lot of living
and loving
yet to do.
You have today.
Carry on.

The cicada isn’t exactly a beetle, but a “true bug.”
They symbolize renewal, rebirth, transformation, change.
They can disappear for many years to return en masse.
Their buzzing call is made by the males, who begin singing soon after emergence.

A child is a poem

I recently encountered acrostic analogies, thanks to my friend and endless source of inspiration, Margaret Simon. The basic idea is to find your word and then compose analogies on each line, related to the acrostic word.

The word Child came to me pretty quickly:

Courage is to character as
Hope is to heart as
Imagination is to idea as
Love is to life as
Discovery is to delight

It takes courage to be a child. So much is unknown; there’s so much to learn. I think of my granddaughter, age four, sighing heavily at the end of a long, pre-pandemic day. When my daughter-in-law asked what was the matter, my granddaughter said, with utter bone-weariness: “It’s hard to be a kid.” I think of how natural hope is to children. They hope for summer, for pizza and candy, for snow enough to build a snowman, for specific toys, for special things, for being with special people. Hope seems hardwired into children, as does delight. I originally had “dazzling” in place of delight, thinking how discovery causes a child’s face to light up, sometimes drawing a vocal Ooohhhhhhh and a smile. Dazzling seemed temporary, though. Not sustainable. Delight feels more permanent, a better fit with imagination and a synonym for joy, just as intrinsic as hope to children.

Revisiting this Child acrostic today has me thinking that a child is a poem.

A miracle, how you came to be
You were not, but now you are
Materializing in ways I could not foresee
Stardust forming its own new star
Your own direction you’ll go
Your own rhythm and rhyme you’ll make
In all your wanderlust, just know
That whatever path you take
I’m part of you, you’re part of me

Life interwoven, yours and mine
Images of each other we’ll always be
Written in every line.

Read it as if it is referencing a child—doesn’t matter if it’s a child of your own, any one that you’ve loved or taught, one you’ve happened to encounter, or possibly the child you used to be.

Then read it as if it’s addressing a poem. Certainly one you’ve written. Maybe even one you’ve read.

Tell me a child is not a poem.

Or, at the very least, poetry in motion.

The bottle

Today I have a literal “found poem.” Meaning not one derived from another’s work but as in finding it while going through folders from previous school years and unearthing poetry I’d modeled for students on writing around an object. I remember taking three objects with special meaning to me so the kids could choose which I’d write about.

They chose the bottle.

Which I found after my grandfather’s death, visiting the farm where he was born. It was the second and last time I walked this piece of land. The first time, my grandfather, grown old and frail, walked with me. Ten acres of fields bordered by trees is all that remains, but he showed me where the house once stood, and the barns, and the henhouse … all gone without a trace now.

Except for some long-buried treasures.

In the old days, farm families had a trash pile. What wasn’t burned away with fire, or washed away by ages of wind and weather, or destroyed by perpetual tractors and harrows, might be swallowed by the earth until the earth is ready to give it back.

I wasn’t expecting such a gift the day I walked alone, mourning my grandfather.

So, I told the students, as I prepared to draft, when you write about an object you might also consider the feeling the object triggers in you. For me, with this bottle, it’s wonder. I want to incorporate a sense of wonder in this poem.

And so I wrote for them, and they enjoyed making artistic suggestions (they wanted it to rhyme):

Granddaddy is gone
And I walk his old farm
How he loved this place
This wide-open space
Nothing now to see
Where barns and house used to be
Just an empty field
After harvest’s yield
Cold breeze blows
Through my heart, it goes
When I spot in a bit of grass
Sunlight glistening on—glass?
I momentarily forget my hurt
As I dig it from the dirt
—a bottle, imagine that
No telling how long it sat
Buried deep in this ground
As the as the years circled round
Whose hand touched it last
In that long ago past?
Clear glass, heavy, yet small
Cracked but unbroken, all in all
What unseen secrets must it hold
This bottle of stories untold

It holds untold stories, all right. I’ve not determined exactly what tincture this old bottle actually held. The faintest embossed image of a root, almost worn away, remains on the front. A health tonic, likely. I know my grandfather had a sister who died of diphtheria at age three, in 1907. I doubt the bottle is that old but I have visions of my great-grandmother nursing her ailing children and tossing that empty bottle onto the trash heap…

Sparking me to attempt a didactic cinquain:

Bottle
Antiquated, weather-worn
Eroding, cracking, enduring
Poured out for healing
Elixir

Or maybe a double reversed etheree:

Empty of that for which you were fashioned
vessel of life-blood for veins long ceased
drawn from roots to nourish my own
cold glass clasped in hands now still

spooned in mouths now silent
elixir fully
poured out, consumed
every drop

gone
cast off
forgotten
swallowed by earth
kept year after year
without ceremony
lying silent, eroding
enduring seasons, weathering
cracking but enduring, determined
to remain clear with your story obscured.

—oh, little bottle.

How I wish you could speak.

Social distance of trees

One of the best books I’ve read in recent years is The Overstory, Richard Powers’ novel of the American chestnut blight that wiped out almost all of those beautiful trees by the end of the 1930s. Powers wraps stories of people’s lives around that core like concentric rings. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on April 15, 2019, a year ago yesterday. Author Robert Macfarlane’s enthusiastic praise of the book led me to read it and to plunge deep into the secretive, endlessly fascinating world of trees. They communicate with one another. They have memory. Maybe they are whispering their secrets to us … This week Macfarlane shared an article on Twitter about the social distance practice of some trees, the phenomenon known as crown or canopy shyness, their treetops (“overstory”) not touching in order to survive in the competition for resources like sunlight. That was the clarion call to me: Write something. About trees and how they do this. But what? How? Then I stumbled across a different article about the Fibonacci sequence of trees, oaks in particular: as their branches grow, five branches to two spirals, a pattern is formed. Could I combine these ideas, somehow?

Doesn’t poetry always make a way?

A Fibonacci poem on the social distance practices of trees:

Trees
keep
distance:
crown shyness,
their overstory,
shared but not touching each other.

Photo: Old oak. Dave Parker. CC BY.

Blitz poem: Track the love

So far I’ve managed to write a poem a day for National Poetry Month, a feat I’ve never attempted before. All my life I’ve loved rhythm, rhyme, and free verse, but the great fun has been experimenting with form. This is my second completed blitz … how apropos is that name for the times …

Stay at home
Stay on track
Track the days
Track your steps
Steps in faith
Steps to a better you
You should know
You aren’t alone
Alone in all the world
Alone at last
Last night
Last time
Time stands still
Time on our hands
Hands sanitized
Hands not held
Held a puppy
Held in the heart
Heart grows fonder
Heart of the matter
Matter of fact
Matter constitutes the universe
Universe pay
s attention
Universe giving gifts
Gifts to guide you along the way
Gifts of words
Words are power
Words are magic
Magic portals
Magic moments
Moments too few
Moments too short
Short on time
Short of breath
Breath of fresh air
Breath on the mirror

Mirror image
Mirror glass
Glass half empty
Glass half full
Full of sound and fury
Full of hope
Hope against hope
Hope springs eternal
Eternal God
Eternal love
Love like there’s no tomorrow
Love your neighbor
Neighbor

Tomorrow

In case you’re curious: Here’s my first blitz, Signs of Sun.

Morningsong

Waking
to grayness
rain slapping windows
winter wind crying
because it does not heed
spring
and life.
Wrapped in my blanket
I listen
to that unrelenting wind
daring
not caring
moaning
mourning
around the edges
of existence.

—then—

Through the
gusting gloom
wailing doom
a faint sound.
A solitary
little bird
singing
joy joy joy-joy-joy
honoring
the light
ever
how dim.

Bird singing in the rain. Andy Morffew. CC BY

On the finches not returning

Today I lift a line from Emily Dickinson.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
My finches, every spring—
On my wreath their nest awaits
New life they always bring—

This year —more than ever—
I watch for their return—
Yet the nest is empty
Of that for which I yearn—

I wonder what is keeping them
And if my charm is gone—
Do the finches know somehow
Life must keep moving on—

Come home, little finches—
Come home— if you will—
Hope is the thing with feathers
Where I’m abiding—still.

Note: “Charm” is the group name for finches.