Sand dollar etheree

Inspired by and dedicated to Margaret Simon, who shared the photo and who’s mourning the loss of her father.

Photo: Kim Douillard

Half
remains
afterward
it is enough
tangible beauty
even in mourning throes
to sense the infinite flows
of life undulating beyond
what the eye can see or hand can hold
where the spirit abides whole, unbroken

Retooled tanka poem

Today Cara Fortey invites teacher-poets to compose tankas for VerseLove on Ethical ELA. A tanka has thirty-one syllables and, in English, is usually arranged in five lines of 5/7/5/7/7. Cara offers the example of Harryette Mullin, who reduced the lines to three, for flexiblity of form. In honor of Mullin’s nature walks captured in tanka, Cara extends this invitation: “Write one or more of your own tankas in the style of Harryette Mullen. Take a walk, literally or imaginatively, and write what comes to you in three lines with 31 syllables.”

Mourning Walk

Last summer when I walked here 
the fallow field at the end of the lane opened up before me
an undulating sea of green

Long before I reached the shimmering expanse
I could feel the mystical, quivering aliveness
in the depths of the grasses

Infinitesimal orchestra, vast insect choir
assembled in its tabernacle, offering lifesong
to all the Earth

Today, I stand here in memoriam
for the field is no more, shorn of its green tresses
its body ravaged by bulldozers

An unseasonably cold wind
whips with knife-shivering emptiness
even doves, high on the power lines, bear silent witness

Collaboration poem

Day 3 of National Poetry Month: for VerseLove at Ethical ELA, Gae Polisner and Lori Landau share poetry they composed via collaboration in a Google Doc as a means of inspiring one another and keeping the poetry flowing. The invitation today is to lift a line, a few words, or theme from a fellow VerseLove poet to create something new.

I lifted the line “Creaking of floor, house settling” from my kindred-spirit-writer-friend, Kim Johnson. She wrote of morning sounds, which include the “tick tick tick” of dog nails on the floor… see how “tick” made its way into my title, not even a conscious connection on my part. I noticed it when I reread her poem.

Time Ticks On

Creaking of floor
house settling
sighing at the close
of another day
shaft of sunlight
on the oak floor
glimmers brightest
just before fading
away

Beyond the window
tree shadows lengthen
across green green grass

I think about walking there
in the cool of the day
pretending 
the shadows
are portals 
where I might fall through

to find you

Tree shadows over green lawn. Horia Varlan.  CC BY 2.0.

*******

I’ve also borrowed a line from Lori, “to find you” – I think the point of inspiration between Lori and Gae, “gone,” has fused to my own Muse this morning. The line intentionally borrowed from Genesis 3:8 is one of my favorites… only now, post-poem, am I realizing how it, too, is connected to “gone.”

Lament and celebration poem

with thanks to Andrew Moore, host of Sunday’s Open Write on Ethical ELA. Andrew challenged teacher-poets to compose around lament plus celebration (these don’t have to be related; this is meant to be exercise in writing freely, in any form). He writes: “My inspiration comes from a distinct lack of good sadness, grief, and lament beside a healthy laugh and looking forward to the changes the future may bring.” The poem can be as light-hearted, silly, or serious as the poet desires.

Here’s where I am today:

Remains

Today, I mourn 
the destruction of trees along my rural byways
the displacement of wildlife
the destruction of Ukraine
the displacement of her people
the systemic demoralization of teachers
the systemic misplacement of trust

Today, I celebrate
the remnants
of trees
wildlife
Ukraine
her people
teachers
trust

Today, I hope
for restoration
in revelation 
and reverence

before all
become revenants

“The Elephant – great destruction.” Public domain. Note the trees, the cities, the elephant all in stages of disappearing … elephants, by the way, symbolize wisdom, memory, prosperity

******

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

The field

The field at the end of my street
where cotton used to grow
where morning glories of purple and pink
bloomed in tangled profusion
where the autumn sun
burnished the treetops
where myriad insects would chorus
all summer long

is cleared
is being bulldozed
for houses

I will never again see the cotton
stretching out like snow
or the morning glories
rioting in the grass

the trees will be obscured
if they are allowed to remain

and the great insect choir
of quivering magic-sounds
is forever silenced

I cannot imagine how the field
is feeling

but I
am forlorn

Cotton from my lost field

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.


Memory, like morning (on the day of a friend’s funeral)

with thanks to Denise Krebs who shared the hay(na)ku form on Ethical ELA today.

First draft:

On waking before dawn on the morning of a beloved friend’s funeral

Memory
Like morning
Shimmers with light

Gathering
For Christmas
Across the years

You
Playing Santa
Giver of gifts

Laughter
Colorful, bright
Exquisite as snow

Stories
Like wine
Better over time

Dinners
Savored moments
Ending too soon

Envisioning
Your eyes
Always Christmas-bright

Awe
At love 
Given so freely

Embracing
Many others 
Ever-widening circle

Gathering
Together today
In your memory

Celebrating
Your life
Colorful, bright, exquisite

Testimony
To faith
In Lord Jesus

Returning
your body
to your homeplace

Earth
Where our
Young selves walked

Gathering
For Christmas
Across the years

Now
In springtime
Oceans of flowers

Bloom
Like promises
Around your grave

Friend
No good-byes
Only more homecomings

Rising
From darkness
In heaven’s embrace

Memory
Like morning
Shimmers with light

The call

In a poetry class with Highlights Foundation, I recently wrote an Edenic or Fall of Man/Woman poem in which I touched on the idea that animals once had free communication with humans. Maybe we once understood all the lyrics in birdsong. Maybe that’s why I have such a pang when the Carolina wren on my back deck sings, with its whole being, with what sounds like unbridled joy; it fills me with unspeakable longing for something I cannot name. Maybe this lost dialogue is why dogs’ loving eyes so pierce the human soul…begging the question of who’s the purer creature…

One morning this week I heard a sound that I haven’t heard in years. I hadn’t even realized it was missing: the distinctive call of Bobwhite quail. A quick online search told me that their numbers have diminished in my area. Surely some of this is due to habitat loss as more subdivisions are being built. As is often the case with one simple search, I now have more research to do…

And then one afternoon, pulling into my driveway, I saw four tiny brown birds running from the roadside to safety in the grass. A new covey of these quail, forging their life together. Got me thinking about how challenging it is to survive, being a ground bird, considering the neighbor’s prowling cat and any number of things in the snatches of surrounding woods… it is a line of thinking I can’t let myself follow very far. Leads me back to the poem, the idea of Eden, the true unity of all living things, before the loss of it all. Before the first bloodshed.

But today, I will simply savor the sound. And the living. And the message, as much as I can understand it.

Bob-white, bob-bob-white
onomatopoeic call
of little ground birds
skittering through the grasses
looking out for each other

Lead photo: Northern Bobwhite quail. Steve Maslowski/USFWS. CC BY

End photo: Northern Bobwhite. Don Faulkner. CC BY-SA

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.