A bit of light

Today on Ethical ELA I encountered a poetic form new to me: the lantern. My understanding is that it is a five-line Japanese shape poem beginning with a one-syllable noun followed by successive lines of nouns containing two, three, and four syllables, ending with another one-syllable noun, all connected to and building on the first word.

I was immediately captivated and had to give it a try.

It is challenging.

In my mind the lantern image morphed into a lamppost, a symbol with much personal meaning. Like the indelible image in Narnia, a lamppost marks the way home for me: one stood in front of the house where I grew up. Whenever I was out at night and turned the last corner, I’d see the light of that lamppost.

I went with the image. I kept the syllable count but gave up on sticking with just nouns. I could write a lengthy essay about all the other meanings the lamppost holds for me, but this is poetry; interpretation belongs to the reader. 

It is dark and dreary in my neck of the woods today, pouring rain… perhaps that’s another reason the lamppost remained.

I needed a bit of light.

To the Lamppost

good light
still guides me
home through darkest

Intimate conversation poem

with thanks to Barb Edler for the Open Write inspiration on Ethical ELA. Barb invited poets to speak directly to a subject, perhaps a person from the past or present, a beloved or loathed object, or even a dream, frustration, or desire.


In the dead of winter
in the dark of night
in the starlit silence
you come

to sleep
in the old
twig-vine wreath
on the front door

tiny warm presence
of which I’d be unaware
if not for the pull
of the stars

the frigid bite
of the night
is worth the sight
if only for a moment

so I open
the door

soft sudden flutter
wings taking flight
in the cold cold night

oh little bird
that I cannot see
you cannot know
how your presence
comforts me

that in this barren season
before the time
of nesting
you find your place
of resting

upon my door

little winged creature
of first blessing


Note: Sea creatures and birds were the first living things blessed by God, Genesis 1:22.

Said wreath. When I woke before dawn, remembering there’s a comet to be observed, I bundled up to try for a view from the front porch. The little unseen bird flew out of the wreath as I opened the door. There is no nest; I am not sure where the bird tucks in but the idea of it sleeping against the safety of my door in winter makes a metaphor of immense comfort to me. I can’t determine if it’s a house finch (they build nests in my wreaths each spring) or a Carolina wren, tiny bird with a big, gorgeous song. In the darkness I can only hear small wings beating for a split second as it takes flight. Whatever it is… it is welcome.

Bad advice poem

with thanks to Scott McCloskey, today’s Open Write host on Ethical ELA. Scott says there are plenty of poems offering advice, but few offering bad advice… today we set about rectifying that shortage…

How to Manage a Skeleton

When sitting with a skeleton
it is best to remind him (?)
it is his own fault
he has no flesh

unless, of course,
you fail to recognize
a skeleton in the first place
(it’s possible
even probable
despite the garish array
of teeth
and the empty sockets
and all those ribs
gleaming white)

you might go so far
as to remind the skeleton
to keep a stiff upper lip
(although ‘twill do
little good
when one
has no lips
no more)

better yet to focus
all your time, energy,
and efforts with the skeleton
in pointing out the priority
of having a backbone
over having a heart

by all means,
continue extracting
your pound of flesh
ignoring, of course,
the feeble rattling
of wind whistling
through the bones
—this does not matter
in the slightest
when the spirit
is long gone.

Reading Skeleton. leted. CC BY-NC 2.0.

In our shared autumn

with thanks to Denise Hill for the prompt on Ethical ELA’s Open Write today: American Sentences, a poetry form invented by Allen Ginsberg, are comprised of seventeen syllables.

To my husband.

An Observation, While Watching Oblique Light Striking Fiery Leaves

What shall I say to you, in the long afternoon of our shared autumn?
Memories of many colors scuttle across sidewalk existence.
I cannot decide which I would gather to preserve, to toss, to burn.
Trees have no compunction about shedding their fragility—should we? 
Give me your hand while it is yet light, for evening comes earlier now.
Moments, in their gilded crowns, are more beautiful than ever before.

Memory is…is not

with thanks to Susan Ahlbrand for the invitation to write a “this but not that” poem based on an abstract noun over at Ethical ELA’s Open Write today

Memory is a blanket
of new-falling snow
over barren ground
where nothing would grow

Memory is not static
it is ever-changing
reinventing itself day by day
ever so slightly
around the edges

Memory is sparks
crackling and popping
from the inner fire
in the grate

Memory is not reliable—
it goes its own way,
its own consummation
and consumption,
ashes stirred to life
rolling in the breeze

Memory is a river
life-giving, sustaining, sacred
flowing free until obstructed
necessary and nourishing
yet potential danger for drowning
—you cannot live there, submerged

Memory is not tomorrow
or yesterday

Memory is now

Memory is not a book,
a record carefully preserved

Memory is written in disappearing ink

happy snow. tamaki. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Starting a semi-sestina poem

with thanks to Wendy Everard for the Open Write invitation today on Ethical ELA. A traditional sestina has six stanzas and a three-line envoi; the initial six ending words rotate through remaining stanzas in a prescribed order. Today’s process begins with brainstorming six words. For a semi-sestina, one can alter stanzas and lines, exercising creative freedom…

Here are my six words and opening stanza at present. It will take some time to see where they lead…



Childhood Memory

She spreads the pattern across the fabric
placing the pins. Wielding her sharpest scissors,
she cuts along the grain. The scraps fall
to the floor, haphazard collateral damage.
She will not save the pieces
or remember their wholeness, before her pattern.

Cobbler cutting fabric with scissors. Ivan Radic. CC BY 2.0.

Art into words poem

On Day Three of Ethical ELA’s Open Write, Margaret Simon invited participants to “transform art into words” by “choosing a work of art or creative practice and explore phrasing, spaces, and repetition.”

My mind immediately went to Van Gogh and the Immersive Experience I recently attended. The last two lines of my poem are Van Gogh’s own words, written in a letter to his brother, Theo, referencing other artists who were known for painting specific flowers: “You know that Jeannin has the peony, Quost has the hollyhock, but I have the sunflower, in a way.” My poem’s title comes from Van Gogh’s artist friend Gauguin, who loved Vincent’s sunflower paintings in a time when many artists thought they were too rustic a subject. Van Gogh, however, was fond of the flowers. Newly-invented pigments of yellow oil paint enabled him to experiment and innovate, creating the two series of seven paintings collectively known as Sunflowers. At his funeral, the flowers graced his casket; a friend later planted sunflowers on his grave. 

“Completely Vincent”
Van Gogh, painting sunflowers for Gauguin

and yellow
thirty shades 
of yellow
with faces
forever turning
toward the sun
light shining
in darkness
returning thanks
for my friend
for the beauty
of these flowers
growing in
wild array 
by the paths
I walk 
day by day
I offer them
to you, 
my friend
can you see
in my oil-bouquet
all the shades
of gratitude
so much
I cannot even say
whether it’s still 
in me to pray
be that as it may
I have the sunflower
in a way

Grass poem

On the second day of the August Open Write at Ethical ELA, Margaret Simon shared “a photo that wants to be a poem.”

Here’s mine.


I savor 
the secrets
of grass
in its returning
again and again
to a scarred surface.
I savor its growing
here in tangled profusion
with yellow foxtails
beckoning in the breeze
in the knowing
that when there comes
a mowing
the inner balm
secretes itself
across the brokenness
releasing its sweetness
in the air.
What I savor
most of all
is breathing
the fragrance of grass 
healing itself.

Photo: Margaret Simon

The snickersnee

On the first day of the August Open Write at Ethical ELA, Gayle Sands invited participants to scroll this site, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/surprising-uncommon-words, for choosing an uncommon word to pay with in crafting a poem.

The word that caught me was snickersnee.

I’ll just let the poem speak for itself…

The Snickersnee

Woe to the olden blades
rusty, dull, disobliging—fie!
Off with thee, useless utensils
Behold the Snickersnee:

So fine a blade
slicing mine vegetables
as if they were but a dream
or merely air…
I forgetteth this
exceptional sharpness
during the washing-up
whereupon the Snickersnee
snicketh a chunk 
o’ me.
(Just a thin slice o’ thumb.
A profusion o’ blood,

Behold the snickersnee

Tinkering with modern haiku

with thanks to Mo Daley for the Open Write invitation on Ethical ELA today: “Forget counting syllables for this writing exercise! The modern haiku does not trouble itself with syllable and line counts. Rather, write a short (usually 1-4 lines), unrhymed poem that juxtaposes two images to capture an insight about the world or oneself.”

This seems so simple…

The first things that comes to mind is the the gutter work we had done here yesterdaywhat to make of this?

Leaking gutters
purged of sludge, with new downspouts
stormwater conduits now capable
of saving my foundation.

A bit of satisfying metaphor, but not exactly juxtaposition.

Something of a challenge, this. I don’t know why I am clinging to the image of a gutter, other than it’s now stuck in my head. It’s one of those simple, unremarkable things (unless, of course, it has a gargoyle waterspout) with vital importance. Maybe a good metaphor for writer’s block.

Hmm. I will try again:

Life-giving rain and sheltering tree are in conspiracy
nonchalantly sneaking, bit by bit, into the gutter
for the ruination of my house
— rather a long-range plan, but still.


I was going to try another haiku with a father telling his sons to “keep their noses clean” when everything really depends on the gutters, or maybe one playing off Oscar Wilde’s quote: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” but now I am weary of wrestling with modern haiku about gutters.

Guttered out, like a candle.