When I’m by myself poem

Today on Ethical ELA Jessica Wiley invites teacher-poets to compose in a form invented by her ten-year-old daughter, entitled “By Myself.” The challenge: Keep the first and last stanzas from the model and write eight rhyming lines in the middle, beginning with “I am.”

As I began to write this morning, quite by myself (so I thought), I heard a sound outside… I had to stop, open my back door, and listen. Naturally it had to become part of the poem, as it’s part of me, now…

Lines Composed Before a Late-April Dawn as Birds Begin Singing and a Barred Owl Is Calling

When I’m by myself
And I close my eyes

I’m flickering candleglow
I’m a rainstreaked window
I’m sky-scouring birds
I’m the wings of words
I’m snowflakes, driven
I’m mistakes, forgiven
I’m an ivy-covered portal
I’m the voice of the owl, immortal

I’m whatever I want to be
An anything I care to be
And when I open my eyes
What I care to be
Is me

A recording of my owl out back in the pre-dawn darkness this morning.

One of the many symbolic meanings of the barred owl is sacred space… which is always calling to me.
It’s also known as a hoot owl.
I have stories and an old song about that, for another day.

Barred owl. Jon David NelsonCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Gogyohka poem (on joy)

For VerseLove today at Ethical ELA, Stacey L. Joy introduces the Gogyohka form. Stacey writes: “The Gogyohka is a form of verse developed by poet Enta Kusakabe in 1957. The idea behind the Gogyohka was to take the traditional form of Tanka poetry (which is written in five lines with 5-7-5-7-7 syllable counts) and liberate its structure, creating a freer form of verse. In the 1990s, Kusakabe began his efforts to spread Gogyohka as a new movement in poetry, and there are now around half a million people writing this form of verse in Japan.” Stacey invites teacher-poets to write a five-line free form poem on joy or liberation, or as many Gogyohka poems as we want.

As I pondered the many things that bring me joy and a sense of liberation, the song “Ode to Joy” came to mind. I went with it. The song title and the last verse comprise the last lines of each Gogyohka:

Call to Joy and Liberation

Listen
it is there
in feathered new-morning stirrings
before the sun’s rising
ode to joy

Believe
it is there
the golden key of redemption turning
in the locked human heart
ever singing, march we onward
 
Look
it is there
illuminating the faces of generations
clasping their grandchildren
victors in the midst of strife
 
Dig
it is still there
the uninhibited dance of childhood
a wellspring pure and free as birdsong
joyful music leads us sunward
 
Create
and it is there
a record of your existence
your own vital contribution 
in the triumph song of life

Joy

Definito poem

On Day 10 of National Poetry Month, my friend Margaret Simon invites teacher-poets to compose a definito poem for VerseLove on Ethical ELA. It’s a form invented by her friend Heidi Mordhorst: “A free verse poem of 8-12 lines (aimed at readers 8-12 years old) that highlights wordplay as it demonstrates the meaning of a less common word, which always ends the poem.” Margaret’s suggestions: “Choose a word that has a certain fascination to you. You can look for the Word of the Day or any word that comes to mind. Play with the etymology of the word. What do the sounds mean? How does the meaning play with your thoughts? Explore the word using imagery, metaphor, and word play.”

So… I tried, I really tried, two things: 1) Getting away from my OLW, “awe” and 2) Keeping to the recommended 8-12 lines. I failed in both. I did, however, have a lot of fun with the unfolding of this pseudo-definito…

Awe “Definito”

So, Children, 
maybe you have seen something
so wonderful
that you went all shivery inside
and maybe your skin
even got tingly
or goosebumpy

a thing
so beautiful 
that you don’t have a word
for how beautiful it is

the feeling you get when
the sun’s slanted golden light 
breaks through the clouds
after a storm
or when you see a rainbow, 
(not made with crayons,
a real one) in the misty height,
colors glimmering, glowing, blurring, 
an ethereal sight
ethereal? Sorry. It means 
to be so airy and light and beautiful
that the thing almost doesn’t belong
to this world
like stars, crystal-bright
against the black-velvet sky
on a winter’s night

maybe you have felt their stab of
silvery coldness, looking up
while your breath
hangs white
in the air

—yeah, that’s the feeling;
should we stop to
discuss metaphor
again?

No, it doesn’t have to be cold.

It can be a rush of warmth
on seeing a puppy
tiny, pink-mouthed, and so new
that its eyes are not yet open

—please note: The word is not spelled
the same way as what you say:
Awwww!
This, Children, is a homophone,
a poem for another day—

and the feeling might not come
from something you see
at all. 

It can come from something you hear. 
Once I was in an auditorium
where a girl who was trained in opera
sang just one high note;
her lips never moved
I couldn’t see her breathing
and the sound grew bigger
and bigger
and bigger
until the room
and my brain
and my heart 
were filled, almost bursting
with the pure, clear
starlike sound

-oh yes, I can tell by your eyes
and your open mouths
that you are beginning
to understand
awe.

After the tornado

Spreading poetic wings

This is my first attempt at writing a ghazal (pronounced “guzzle”) a medieval Persian form of poetry with ancient Arabic roots. Traditional ghazals have themes of love, longing, and loss. They are often sung. Couplets are typically comprised of autonomous lines and the final stanza sometimes contains the poet’s name or a connection to its meaning (mine being either “from France” or “free one.”)

I have entitled this ghazal “Relationships.” Is it romantic? About a married couple? About colleagues? Or… what? You decide, Dear Reader…

For the record, I find this form incredibly challenging. I am still working on it (hmmm. Same can be said of some relationships).

Relationships

We yoked ourselves in this chosen journey
We get old, in one another’s way 

Passions burn like inspirational fire
Tongues burn cold in another way

A heart weighted with iron and ire
Can be a heart of gold in another way 

Narratives are sometimes cardboard boxes
Packaging people to be sold in another way

Your words cannot cage me, for I’m a bird set free 
Your truth is yours; I hold it another way

Bird in Hand 3mollycakes. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

*******

with thanks to Wendy Everard on the last day of the March Open Write at Ethical ELA, and to all who provided poetic inspiration there over the past five days

with thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March

Rambling autobiography

I was born in a state named for a queen, by a river named for a king, and in a hospital named for the river. I adore books, words, wind chimes, church bells, birdsong, the crying of gulls at the shore, ocean waves crashing, the utterance of my newest name, Franna, in my granddaughter’s voice, the aliveness in my son’s fingers dancing over the keys of my grandmother’s piano until the house and my soul burst with his music, and silences. I bought a white flannel nightgown and sheets with bright red cardinals on them at Christmastime because Grandma loved cardinals and Christmas, it is the season of her birth and her death, she is nearest then, so now I lay me down to sleep in heavenly peace. I have her wedding band; I wear it every day. I never dreamed of being a teacher. One of my sons became a teacher, too, then a preacher, like his father. When I was eight or nine, I had an imaginary black cat; one time after climbing from the backseat of Grannie’s car, I flung my hand out to keep the imaginary cat from escaping and Grannie slammed the door on my fingers (no one ever knew about the cat…sorry, Grannie, it wasn’t your fault). My favorite place is out in the middle of nowhere along an old dirt road where my grandmother then my father then I played as children, where cicadas in the woods sing as loud as Heaven’s choir about being born, living, dying, and the Resurrection. I can still smell Old Spice in the cool of those evenings when Granddaddy leaned down to offer me his clean-shaven cheek to kiss, Good night, I love you, see you in the morning. I dated the handsomest black-haired man I’ve ever seen for just three months when we decided to get married, thirty-seven years ago. I fainted at a funeral one summer afternoon but not from grief. I gave my real black cat to Daddy when I got married because I couldn’t take her to the tiny apartment that would be my new home. I once had a yellow parakeet; Daddy got it for my sixth birthday and it lived until I was twelve, dying one summer when I was at Grandma’s playing on the old dirt road — such a mysterious balance, the giving of things and the living of them. I am a grandmother now. I want to have a good dog as long as I am alive and to see my granddaughters grown into all their beautiful becomings before the cicadas sing me away to the riverside where I shall meet the King, at last.

If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.

Psalm 139:9-10

*******

with many thanks to Denise Krebs for the inspiration. Here are Denise’s starters (borrowed from Linda Rief) for a rambling autobiography:

I was born…
I adore…
I bought…
I have…
I never…
One of my…
When I was (age)…
My favorite place…
I can still (sense)…
I dated…
I fainted…
I gave…
I once had…
I am…
I want to…

and thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

Sunday song

Early Sunday morning, on my way to church, the sky’s overcast but sun rays are peeking through, all set to teach the lesson on what constitutes a “hero” and while the best-known characteristic may be courage (which is not the absence of fear but acting bravely in spite of it), not to mention self-sacrifice, then perhaps the least recognized is humility, throwing off the mantle of leadership to be a servant, it’s all a matter of the spirit, service… and as I drive past barns, fields, pastures, the green, green grass hints of imminent spring, making my heart rejoice, as do the horses tossing their manes when I pass, surely shaking off sleep and the night, greeting the day as if to say Good morning, good morning, not to mention that I have just enough time to make choir practice before I teach, for we are finally singing as a choir again after two long years, and look at all these robins flocking by the roadside, taking flight as I round the bend, maybe straightening a curve or two, until I remember something my childhood preacher said: Don’t have a Jesus bumper sticker on your car if you drive like the devil… good thing I have no such sticker, but I’ll slow down a bit just the same…in my bag is a list of prayer requests and petitions to make, knowing the Lord already knows, for He knows all, sees all, is over all, and while there is so much I cannot understand, I am learning, I am always learning, and although words are forever scrolling through my brain, today, my heart needs no words; it just sings, like the birds.

A photo from last summer. In recent weeks a little Carolina wren has been perching on the tip of the cross of one of our two “bird churches,” singing its heart out to the sky. I haven’t been successful in recording this glorious solo… yet.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

Ghost-memory poem

with thanks to Glenda Funk for the Open Write prompt on Ethical ELA today: “I invite you to think about the ghosts who appear to you and the ways you learn from and celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, those who now visit us in our memories.”

In the Night

When I crawl into bed
to rest my weary bones at last
I have a sense of her

the way she tucked me in
heard my prayers
kissed my forehead 
in successive repetition 
soft as wing-flutters

I hear her voice
when the lights go out
and darkness first envelops:
Don’t worry, Honey
in a minute
your eyes will adjust
you’ll be able to see

and I see her
in the night
a drifting wraith
in her thin pale gown
bathed in silver moonlight
floating into Granddaddy’s room
where I sleep 
on the little cot by his bed
listening to the rhythms of 
his mighty snores

for she always rises
in the darkest part
to check my coverings
sometimes caressing my head
or patting my leg
before drifting back out
to her own room
where snoring 
cannot reach

she is never far
even now
and for all the brightness
she brought to my days
she is near, so near,
in the night.

On quiet

The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. —Rumi

Morning

I rise far too early, don’t I.
Yet it is an act of love
this aloneness in the
dark, being able to empty
my spirit of noise, slipping into silent
meditation before the dewy
dawn catches in the cobwebby
grass, to wordweave away my hours.

*******

Late Afternoon

The last shaft of sunlight
pales on my pine floor

like a lingering goodbye
from beyond the window
where nothing is stirring
no breeze in winter-bare trees
no birds to be seen nor heard
in this earthtone moment
of prolonged silence
and stillness

time alone moves

it only ebbs
whether in seconds
or epochs

even in this moment
I can feel moss
growing by millimeters
on ancient rocks
caressed by golden fingers
of fading sunlight

I can almost hear
a song of gratitude
and I can’t tell
if it’s being sung by
the moss
the rocks
or the sun

only by something
which knows
time never flows

and that
soon, soon
it will be night

followed again
by morning light

Smiling face in moss. blondinrikard. CC BY 2.0

*******

with thanks to Ruth at SOS-Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog for the inspiration with the Rumi quote and to C.S. Lewis, who wrote of rising “barbarously early” in the morning: “I love the empty, silent, dewy, cobwebby hours” (Letters to an American Lady).

More metaphor dice

My son challenged me to make something with this roll of my metaphor dice: loss, elusive, junkyard.

This is what I have, so far…

Junkyard Loss is Not Elusive 

It is said that imagination
is the junkyard of the brain
where used things lie in limbo
until they are destroyed
taken back by the grass
or called into service again

which is to say
no experience is wasted
only catalogued and stored
in the deep recesses of memory
until the need for it
should arise
in solving a problem
in creating a new thing
in connecting patterns
in different ways of seeing
relating
expressing
understanding

which is to say
that beloved childhood doll
with the cracked face
or the scent of
your father’s shaving cream
or that dog, that dog
that chewed up your best shoes
but slept every night by your side
long ago, so long ago
comes bounding back
for a specific purpose

for there is unseen order
in a junkyard
where used things lie in limbo
until they are called into service again
or destroyed
or taken back
by the grass.


On fire and prayer

On the last Monday of October I drive to work in pre-dawn darkness as deep as midnight. Rounding bends on deserted backroads past unlit houses, gaping stubbled fields, hulking shapes of farm equipment, shadowed barns, patches of woods, when off in the distance, through silhouetted tree trunks—fire.

A bonfire. Tall flames, bright orange against the blackness, undulating skyward. Startling. So Halloween-esque. Hauntingly beautiful in its way except….I can’t tell what’s burning. Probably trash. The fire seems large for that, and before sunrise? I am too far away to see anything but the fire itself. I cannot see smoke or smell it. No screaming sirens. No alarms. Only silence, stillness…should I investigate to be sure? The road twists and turns, demanding my attention, and as I reach a tricky intersection where a few sets of headlights from opposite directions approach and pass, I realize: I’ve lost sight of the fire now. I am not sure of its location. Somewhere close by it’s burning, consuming, destroying, I hope nothing precious, nothing of value… and so I cross the intersection, praying it is controlled until extinguished.

On I drive in the darkness, shivering.

I think of anger.

*******

Fire, anger. The contrast of being controlled, purifying, and righteous, or uncontrolled to the point of destroying, intentionally or not, what is precious, valued, and loved. Thinking of that fire throughout the day yesterdaythere were no reports of damagereminded me of a poem I wrote last week:

Why I Pray

In the absence of peace,
I pray.

When my mind cannot fathom
or even form questions,
I pray.

When I am weary
of injustice, of sifting truth and lies,
when my inner well has run dry,
I pray.

I pray for power beyond my own.

To overcome the red-hot dagger of fury,
that I should not wield it,
thereby scarring others
and myself.
To knit words of healing instead,
one by one, 
like snowflakes falling
to form a blanket of blessing,
a holy hush.

Freeing myself by forgiving
myself
as well as others,
feeling the weight drop away.

That quickening sense of awe,
for even if I cannot call
fire from Heaven (thankfully),
I can move mountains of ice
in my own heart.

Because, as long as I live,
I will battle need, loss, and fear, 
trusting that love conquers all
—its beating wings in my heart,
forever my reason 
to pray
again.

*******

with thanks to Andy Schoenborn for the “Embrace your why” prompt and the mentor poem written by a student, shared on Ethical ELA’s Open Write last week.

and to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge, always encouraging “a world of reflective writers”—so needed.

Photo: Burning fire at nightwuestenigel. CC BY 2.0