Of angels and stairways

with thanks to Carolina Lopez for the Open Write prompt on Ethical ELA today

I’ve Been Writing This Since

I’ve been writing this since
I looked into the wide vent-grates
of the upper room floor
of my grandparents’ apartment, 
sure that I saw angels
in the depths

in the same way 
that I saw stairsteps to Heaven
in the light fixtures
of the doctor’s office ceiling
when I was a sick child.

Yeah, well.

I am still here
believing
when those I loved
are long gone
yet cheering me on
from the other side of portals
I cannot see

perhaps they are looking
through vent-grates
and light-fixture stairways
at me.

Lighting & grate. Photos by Portland_MikeCC BY-ND 2.0.

Autopsy data

a poem inspired by a professional development facilitator

The educator
in analyzing
student
scores
numbers
and notes
must DO
something
in response
otherwise
all you have is
autopsy data

Rembrandt —The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Public domain.

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…

fabric
scissors
fall
damage
pieces

pattern

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.

Light reading

A friend who knows my affinity for the natural world gave me The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. It’s written as a conversation between Jane Goodall and her interviewer, Douglas Abrams. When I say it’s part of my current “light reading” I don’t mean easy (although it is) or frivolous (for it is not).

I mean light as in candleglow dancing on the walls of a dark room.

I’ve not gotten far yet but here are some lines that draw me in the first couple of chapters—flickerings of my own credo:

Hope is a survival trait.

The naturalist looks for the wonder of nature – she listens to the voice of nature and learns from it as she tries to understand it.

Hope does not deny all the difficulty and all the danger that exists, but is not stopped by them. There’s a lot of darkness, but our actions create the light.

And this from an Inuit elder, on confronting and healing our grief, which can manifest itself in the body as physical pain: Make space for grief…find awe and joy in every day.

—these, I believe. They are often the very reason why I write.

Recipe for Survival

Hold onto hope, and it will hold you
Open the ears, eyes, arms of your spirit
Perceive the call of awe, all around
Embrace it. Let the healing begin.

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.

Maybe.

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.

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.

Toadally true story

While working outside around the house, I paid no attention to the little brown rock in the driveway.

Until it hopped.

On closer inspection: Not a rock. A tiny, rust-colored toad, pretending to be a rock.

Reminded me, for just a fraction, of story characters who magically transform themselves into creatures or objects to avoid detection from enemies…

I leaned in while trying to maintain a respectful, non-threatening distance.

“You’re doing a magnificent job of it,” I told the toad.

Of what? its tiny taciturn face seemed to ask.

“Of pretending to be a rock,” I said.

It sighed (I think).

What gave me away?

“Well, rocks don’t hop.”

Its expression: pure disdain.

“Toads don’t talk, either,” it said, as it turned and hopped away across the hot pavement.

Okay…so this story may not be toadally true…

The toad. Less than one inch long. Stone-faced, isn’t it. Can’t decide if I’d call it Rusty or Rocky. Or perhaps just Fowler, as it appears to be a Fowler’s toad, with poisonous warts…fun fact: apparently ALL toads are poisonous. Not highly toxic to humans through touch, only if ingested (gulp). Think of those I caught as a child and brought home in my metal Peanuts lunchbox amongst the crusts of my PB&J (toadally true. Honest). Would make for fun fiction writing with students when they study animal defense mechanisms: The Revenge of the Toads…

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge
and, of course, to the toad

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.