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.

Tiny king

The Tiny King Comes to Sip His Nectar

He visits a little more each day
watching me through the window, wary
not knowing I hold my breath
at sight of him, flash of living jewel-fire
out of nowhere, here, and gone

My male ruby-throated hummingbird
—took days of stealth to get these shots.
The females come more frequently.


Rubies are the stone of kings; in chess, the king can move in any direction. In mythology, nectar is the drink of the gods. Fitting symbolism for this little creature so gloriously arrayed, so endowed with otherworldly powers. He’s outside my window looking in at this very moment, the morning sun shining on his fiery throat—the brightest color I’ve ever seen in nature. Utterly breathtaking. He’s laid claim to the window feeder since I put another one out in the yard. Tiny king of a tiny kingdom, reigning and defending from a twig-throne on high, among pink blossoms in the crape myrtlewhich just so happens to represent royalty.

Eternal summer: memoir poem

with thanks to Jennifer Guyor Jowett for the Open Write invitation on Ethical ELA today: “Share your summertimes with us, whether it’s within the memories of your childhood or the place you are in right now. Take us there. Include sensory details to evoke the spirit of your summer.”

I have written lot about my childhood summers. Today I try a bit of reframing and recapturing the magic…

*******

Eternal Summer Reigns

Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?

—Mr. Tumnus to Lucy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I live it every day of my life, summer.

By some great magic I am still a child
returning to my grandparents’ house
so deep in the country some people say
it’s at the end of the Earth

for me, ever the beginning

a place of woods, holding their secrets close
a place of enchantment, outside of Time
a place of belonging, of sacrifice

where ghosts of the past live again
in Grandma’s stories

there’s her Papa, tending bees
never getting stung
her Mama, picking cotton
and dipping snuff

her brothers and sisters
(eight in all)
playing softball
or piling in the goat-cart
to be pulled by a white mule
named Jenny

there’s my grandfather and his brother
courting my grandmother and her sister
gathering at friends’ houses
singing and make taffy

my father, being born
in a tenant farmer’s house
—Cotton-Top, they call him,
for the color of his hair
when he is a toddler

babies born into the family
some stillborn
(Daddy’s voice…Would have been
so interesting to see
what my double first cousins
would have looked like
if they’d lived)

—I live them every day,
the stories.

I am the stories.

Every day I am a child
unpacking my suitcase
for the summer
welcoming the ghosts
walking the old dirt road
eventually covered with gravel
from phosphate mining rejects

bits of ancient history
crunch beneath my feet:
shark’s teeth, some tiny and sharp,
some as big as my small palm;
coral skeleton, white chunks
embossed with lacy flower designs;
whale eardrums, curiously curved fossils
—with these, whales heard
their own stories, too
now, they are 
part of mine

and above all, above all
from the surrounding woods, bending near
keeping their secrets close
the crescendo and decrescendo
of cicadas

the true song of summer
and the sun
and living
and dying

and returning.

By some great magic I am still a child
still listening, still living summer every day
and forever
in that sound.

My grandmother in the summer of 1959, years before my birth. This is the setting of my idyllic childhood summers to come, beginning a decade and a half later. I would stay for a couple of weeks each year and never wanted to leave. Grandma fostered my love of reading, writing, and story. She drove me to the tiny county library at the beginning of my summer visits and helped me haul out the armloads of books I selected. She saved magazines, Mini Pages, and National Enquirers all year long for me.

We walked the old cemetery in the clearing diagonally across from where she sits in this photo and the graveyard of the church around the bend, where her parents are buried. As we read the stones, the blazing sun casting our shadows across them, Grandma told me the stories.

The fossils in the gravel of the poem were real. I found handfuls of them in the road here when I was a child.

Cicadas are an ancient symbol of immortality and resurrection. I write of them often because of their connection to this place. Their loud, rattling chorus was ever-present in the background of my childhood summers; the sound remains one of the most comforting on Earth to me. It’s a call of the sun, love, belonging, and home. There’s a myth about the goddess of the dawn, Aurora, asking Jupiter to grant immortality to her lover, which he did, only the goddess forgot to ask Jupiter to also grant her man eternal youth. Her beloved continued aging until Aurora finally turned him into a cicada. If you look closely at depictions of Aurora, you will see the cicada. Why tell this story here? This morning, before the dawn, before the cicadas woke to sing, I saw Jupiter shining high beside the moon. Then I sat down to write to this prompt of summer celebration, reliving halcyon childhood moments with my grandparents at their home, a place where my generational roots run deep in the earth, where my father grew up…an old, far place in the east, named Aurora.

For me, ever the beginning. Eternal summer reigns.

*******

thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for providing a place to share our stories – for we ARE our stories

A poem meets its opposite

with thanks to Jennifer Guyor Jowett for the Open Write invitation on Ethical ELA today. Jennifer writes of discovering the contrary form and its antonymic translation. She invited poets to take a poem we’ve written, or another we found, and use antonyms for various words within the poem to change the meaning.

Some time ago I wrote a pantoum. Today I tried its antonymic translation.

Here’s the pair of them:

You Are the Better One

You are the better one
you chose to stay
I walked away
so much for responsibility

you chose to stay
you, the free spirit
so much for responsibility
I chose my life

you, the free spirit
but I know freedom isn’t free
I chose my life
when I ran from that hall of mirrors

but I know freedom isn’t free
after the shattering
when I ran from that hall of mirrors
leaving the brokenness behind

after the shattering
I walked away
leaving the brokenness behind. 
You are the better one.

Smoke and Mirrors

You are not the better one
because you chose to stay.
I didn’t walk away
from responsibility.

Because you chose to stay
—you, the free spirit
from responsibility—
it wasn’t a choice for me.

You, the free spirit,
never learning freedom isn’t free.
It wasn’t a choice for me
when I ran from that hall of mirrors

never learning freedom isn’t free
before the shattering.
When I ran from that hall of mirrors
I broke only the brokenness.

Before the shattering
I didn’t walk away.
I broke only the brokenness.
You are not the better one.

Sonic Super Villain. SuperSamPhotography. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Translation

with thanks to Jennifer Guyor Jowett for the Open Write invitation on Ethical ELA today:

Think about your reality.
What do you see today?
Ponder the possibilities before you.
Allow a free verse poem to develop.
Begin with the line I see…

*******

Translation

I see the sign
on an office wall

simple black frame
simple black font
on a plain white field

devoid of décor

just words:

Alles ist fertig;
es muss nur noch
gemacht
weden.

I do not read
or speak
this language

but that doesn’t keep
images from
springing to mind:

I see furrows
lush and green against
chocolate loam soil
spread out
like a billowing blanket
to tree-lined ditches

I see my childhood
materializing like a ghost
in the white summer haze

I see the cadence
of cicadas
and storytellers
around the dinner table
long ago
(yes, I see them;

rhythms
have shape
and color

as tentative as candleflame
as sustaining as river
as permanent as earth).

—I see it all
even if
I don’t always know
what it all means.

Eventually
I’ll translate
what I see
into words
on a page
for the knowing.

Everything is ready,
it just needs
to be done.

Purity

a tanka

Photo: Egret by Kim Douillard

Lone snowy egret
by moonstone sea genuflects
in pious homage.
Opalescent baptism

on the wings of no regret.

*******

Thanks to Margaret Simon who shared Kim’s breathtaking photo for “This Photo Wants to Be a Poem” at Reflections on the Teche.

I love symbolism and am awed by certain images that come to mind during composition:

Egrets, snow, opals, and baptism all symbolize purity. So does the sea; it cleanses itself.

Egrets and moonstone are linked to balance. The colors on the water in this photo brought moonstone and opals to mind—they are gems of light-play. Note the posture of that bird.

Egrets also symbolize piety. They prefer solitude.

Car trouble

It is deafening, the sound.

I turn to my husband: “What’s the matter with the car?”

He’s driving. He looks perplexed. “What do you mean?”

“That droning sound. It’s so loud.”

“Oh, that. It’s just the road.”

This is a man who once worked at a major auto parts store. Granted, he took the job because he needed one if we were going to get married, long, LONG ago, when he was twenty-three and I was just turning twenty…he jokes that all he knew about cars at the time is you put gas in them.

Ahem. How much has he learned since?

“It’s NOT just the road! My car doesn’t make this noise on this road! We’re not on a steel drawbridge or anything.” (Anyone who’s ever driven across a metal draw on a bridge will know what I mean. It’s a loud, hollow, wiggly sound, directly related to the sensation in one’s stomach).

This droning sound changes with acceleration and deceleration.

“I think it’s your tires.”

Eventually he checks his tires, after I say the noise is so unnerving that I won’t ride with him anywhere else until he does. I am imagining blowouts, being stranded on the roadside, swerving in traffic when anything could happen… although I looked at the tires myself and thought they had okay-looking treads (confession: I am clearly not a car-ish kinda person, either).

He gets four nice new tires.

I happily climb into the passenger side to ride with him to… I forget, actually…when:

drrrrooooOOOOOOOONNNNnne

“IT’S STILL MAKING THAT SOUND!” I exclaim (shout? holler?).

“Well, it’s not AS loud,” he says, driving right along.

“YES IT IS! Something’s not right. This sounds like go-carts I rode as a kid. Only louder.”

He then informs me his friend tells him it may be a hole in the muffler.

He still does not seem to be concerned about driving this car.

I do not understand it.

At all.

And by the way, the tire-changing establishment told him, when they loaded him up with the four nice new tires, that he needed some brake work also.

I am getting suspicious.

He gets the brake work done and mentions to the establishment that he (and in particular, his wife) still hears the droning sound.

The establishment says: It’s probably something in your transmission. We don’t do that kind of work. You will have to take it to a full-service auto repair.

But they fix up his brakes quite nicely, graciously throwing in a couple of coupons, which is akin to throwing a cup of water on a raging bonfire… moving on, however…

Of course the droning continues. I ride with my husband to the grocery store. This is when we encounter two beautiful, fly-masked horses trotting along the backroads, completely unattended, but that is another story. I’ve begun to feel like imagery of potential harm and disaster is practically screaming at me with every turn. We manage to get home (apparently the horses did, too, as we would have heard otherwise from friends…in the countryside, news travels fast, especially if it’s bad).

I look up all the possible things that could be making the droning sound.

One of them is bad wheel bearings.

“Did the tire-brake people ever say anything about your wheel bearings?” I ask.

“Oh yeah, they checked ’em. Said they were fine.”

Something is definitely NOT fine…and it better NOT be a bearing.

Today my husband takes the car to a full-service repair, local, privately-owned, folks who’ve been in the area forever. Reputable and reliable.

A few hours later, a call: It’s a bearing….

Alrighty then.

As soon as the bearing is repaired and we are allowed to get that car, I will be riding with my husband straight to the former tire-and-brake establishment to have, shall we say, a discussion.

And I better NOT hear the tiniest hint of droning along the way…

Car Trouble. Jan Tik.CC BY 2.0

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with thanks to the Two Writing Teachers community for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. Life is full of challenges, is it not. The writing challenge, at least, is a welcome one…

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