Magnetic metaphorica

Writing leads me
on so many journeys

today it was
to the center of the Earth

it all started with
using “compass”
as a metaphor
which led me to wonder
what really makes a compass work
why the needle points
to magnetic north

which led me to
the magnetic field

and crystals in the Earth’s core

and to the discovery
that these crystals
are a type of snow

(iron snow,
but still)

snowing there
in the molten middle
of our planet

and now I’m swimming
in metaphor
the compass nearly forgotten

because in my mind
I see it snowing in Earth’s core
and I know
it doesn’t look
anything like what scientists
are guessing at

and that’s okay
because I started
with only a compass
not even a tangible one

and I found myself
pulled into fiery living snow
hidden from human eyes
and I felt the flapping
of a majestic blanket
as it rippled far
into the heavens

making the auroras dance
to its rhythms
trailing their long veils of light

-where was I?

Oh, right, the compass.

The journey, the journey.
It’s why I write.

NASA’s THEMIS Sees Auroras Move to the Rhythm of Earth’s Magnetic Field.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. CC BY-NC 2.0


Dirt road

On Ethical ELA’s Open Write today, Kim Johnson invites teacher-poets to compose poetry from paint chip colors. She happened to have “Dirt Road” in her own list.

As soon as I saw that name, it was over. I would have to take Dirt Road. Its pull is too strong for me, calling me back to a place I write about often.

So today I write a memoir poem, although I did incorporate a few paint chip names along the dirt road: Oyster Shell, Turtle Green, Pink Blossoms, Dreamy Memory, Forever Fairytale, Summer Sunflower.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll try whole new paint chip poem away from Dirt Road.

This is where the name led me today.

Dirt Road

I watch the highway
and my heart beats fast
when I see it coming
just around the bend

old dirt road

off to the right
threading through the trees
past Miss Etta’s tiny turtle-green
screened-porch house
where she dips snuff

past the homeplace
standing like a dreamy memory
white paint faded to tired oyster shell
sunlight gleaming
on the tin roof

Grandma was born here

past the tangle of sunflowers
planted by her brother
who still lives here alone
something is different about him
I don’t know what
it’s in his long face
he never says much
but he did give me some quarters
once

just beyond the sunflowers
Granddaddy’s garden
looks like something
an artist painted
in watercolor greens
in perfect rows
he grows collards 
and little round peppers for his vinegar
squash, cantaloupe, snap beans, 
Silver Queen corn, crowder peas,
and butterbeans, 
speckled pink and white
when I help shell them
from their furry green pods

then the grape arbor he built
laden with scuppernong vines
big leaves waving Hey
big brown-gold grapes
won’t be ready yet
and they aren’t even pretty
but to me
they taste like Heaven itself

then the row of crape myrtles at the curve
bright pink blossoms nodding their heads
sometimes shedding, rolling on and on
smooth forked trunks
where I like to climb and sit
and make up songs
thinking in forever fairytale

the house
bright white
black shutters

and I can’t think now
about the tire swing 
hanging there in the pecan tree 
studded with woodpecker holes
or the tiny cemetery with its ghosts
across the old dirt road

because Grandaddy and Grandma
are coming across the yard
straw hats shielding faces
lit with smiles
bright as the summer sunflowers
ever turning toward the sun

Daddy pulls off 
the old dirt road
into the yard

we’re here
we’re here

I am out of the car 
before it stops
running toward
open arms

and I never
want to leave.

My grandparents and my oldest boy on the old dirt road, a long time ago

*******

with thanks to Kim Johnson, Ethical ELA, and Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. Writing is but half the magic. Sharing is the other half.

The slant of the light

January morning
clear and still
rose-gilded clouds
aflame in the sky
like a royal canopy

fiery pink
presiding over
the stone-gray world

as I drive on
smoke wafts and lingers
after a slow descent
from chimneys

around the bend
a curious slanting of light
from behind me

winter-tilted Earth
catching the rising sun
at strange angles

the treetops ahead
become gold filigree
sun-dipped coronets
adorning bodies
enshrouded with shadow

the road I travel
twists and turns

the slanted light shifts,
striking the tree trunks

turning them crimson

blood-red

like arteries

conduits of life
not competing for sunlight
in this one moment,
just standing transformed
by oblique rays

—I revel
in the winter-slanted light,
thinking of how blood rises
to the surface
and how age-old secrets
stay hidden
deep within.

*******


I couldn’t take a picture of the scene on my early morning drive to work today. I can only try to recreate it with words. The sight left me awed and grieved at the same time: that the slant of the light could turn the treetops to lacy gold, could paint their trunks blood-red, and that these conditions might never replicate themselves exactly this way again.
I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch the haunting colorplay between the Earth and sun.

So much depends on perspective.


Try

inspired by Ruth Ayres on Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.
Ruth quotes Elon Musk:
“If something is important enough, you should try. Even if the probable outcome is failure.

Begs the question: What is ‘failure’? Who gets the final say? Surely not the inner critic…

I shall try…

to believe, during the darkest night
to seek the infinite ribbons of light

to love more, to judge less
to concentrate on words that bless

to remember my job is a livelihood, not my life
to free myself of unnecessary strife

to not crumble under self-defined defeat
to keep trying, and trying, again to complete

daily acts of grace, others and self forgiving,
thereby seizing the joy of living

trusting the sense of second sight
urging me always to write, to write.





Scarecrow

Mixed media by Scout, age 5

Suppose you’re a special sort of Scarecrow with a
Carved pumpkin head and a purple hat
Adorned with pink roses, holding out your arms to
Receive birds instead of repelling. Your reward for
Embracing these winged messengers might be
Canticles of cheer sung in your ear,
Refrains of comfort and even celebration as
October dies, again, reminding you, again, it’s only for a
While.

Why I write, 2021

The Children’s Eyes (When They Are Writing)

The children’s eyes
are windows to the skies
sun-bright,
moon and star-studded night,
reflected wonderlight.

The children’s eyes
are toy-wagon wheels
absorbing, bearing, hauling
so much more than playthings.

The children’s eyes
are gates in a small walled garden
which widen when they realize
the stunning flora growing within
—cultivate it, Children.

For in my own walled garden
of memory
lush greenery still grows
not concealing
but revealing
what I now know
to be healing.

All I’ve lived and seen
eventually spills forth
in story or verse
above and through and over
the old stone wall

for even in the moonless,
star-obscured,
darkest night,
there is always
a ribbon 
of light. 

This, Children,
is why I write.

Speaking of things I’ve seen…artwork on a concrete wall in Asheville, NC.
The garden struck me as metaphor for writing, growing there in the brain.

*******

with thanks to Andy Schoenborn for the “eyes” and life experience poetry prompt on Ethical ELA this morning, to Two Writing Teachers for sustaining a community where teachers of writing flourish, and to the National Council of Teachers of English for designating October 20th as National Day on Writing.

and in honor of all the children who inspire me, every time I’ve come to your classrooms to teach writing.

Fallidays

a poem which began as I was driving to work through the darkness and fog that appeared on the first day of October…

October awakens
in the night.
She rises in silence,
stirring white veils of fog
within the world’s
darkened bedchamber.

She knows
I am awake, too,
watching,
and that I am aware
it was not as dark
yesterday morning
at this same time
when September
was still here.
October gathers

her black satin robes
shimmering silver
in the moonlight.
She whispers of magic
and I shiver

just before the sun bursts forth
like a famous artist
with palette in tow-

There is no blue without yellow
and without orange,
and if you put in the blue,
then you must put in the yellow
and orange too,
mustn’t you?” 
and suddenly everything is
yellow and orange and blinding blue
with flecks of scarlet and brown
against the still-green
canvas.
For all her dark mystery
and the death-shroud she carries,
October doesn’t speak
of endings.

She points instead
-see that golden thread glittering
there in her sleeve?-
to celebrations just ahead.

Ah, October.
I see you
disguising your smile
as you creak open
nature’s ancient alchemical doors,
reverently ushering
in
the leaf-bejeweled holiness
that I shall henceforth call
the ‘fallidays’.

“Female ghost”WhiteAnGeL ❤.CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How would you personify early October?
It is difficult to find a photo of a veiled figure comparable to the dark morning bands of fog.

“Figure In The Fog”. paulmcdeeCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The quote, “There is no blue without yellow and without orange…” comes from Van Gogh, written in a letter to his brother. I have used it several times in poems. Seems especially fitting here for the colors of October, illuminated by the artist-sun.

“Symphony of autumn colors”. PeterThoeny. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge
(even when my small-moment story morphs into poetry)

Dear student…

That email you sent.
Almost didn’t open it.
Seemed like random spam.

Thank God I did, though:
I hope you remember me…
the little girl who

halfway wrote a book
‘bout five or six years ago…

-How could I forget?

Never finished it
but now I’m writing this one…
-You are still writing!

You can’t know the gift
it was, assisting your craft
as it developed

the pure joy I took
from the spark in your child-eyes 
born of storylove

-that’s YOUR gift, you know.
Your storytelling power.
It’s grown stronger, still.

And your plans, to be
a therapist. A healer.
An author. Oh, child

you have no idea
what your words have done today.
I read them again

and again, amazed
by your remembering me.
I compose my thoughts

to respond to you,
most of all to say that you’re
unforgettable.

*******

I wasn’t this child’s regular teacher but the school’s literacy coach, supporting writing workshop across grade levels at the time. Her fourth-grade teacher asked if I could make time to work with her as she had fallen in love with the craft and wanted to write historical fiction. We carved out the time; we made it happen. I blogged about it in 2017: Tripping the write fantastic. That teacher invited the student back a couple of years later to share her writing with a new crop of fourth graders. I blogged about that, too: Still tripping the write fantastic.

In the recent surprise email that sparked the poem I posted today, the student also wrote: “Every now and then I’ll read what you wrote about me on Lit Bits and Pieces, and it always makes me smile and feel inspired.”

That, Dear Student, makes ME smile and feel inspired. ❤ Can’t wait to see where your writing takes you!

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge…for teachers must write to teach writers.

Thanks also to Allison Berryhill who hosted an Open Write on Ethical ELA with prompting “a poem to a student.”

Photo: “Steal Like An Artist – ‘Write the book you want to read’.” Austin KleonCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Brave beginnings

with thanks to Tammi over on Ethical ELA for sharing the “sevenling” poem. She writes: “The sevenling is a seven line poem written in two stanzas with an additional single line wrap up. The first stanza (lines 1-3) consists of three lines with connected ideas, details, statements. The second stanza (lines 4-6) also contains three ideas, details or statements. These may or may not be connected to previous stanza. Line seven should wrap up the poem or offer a juxtaposition to your previous stanzas. Because of the brevity of this poem, the last line should leave the reader with a feeling that the whole story has not been revealed.”

This is my first sevenling, really a tribute to someone special…reveal to come afterward.

Facing the Inevitable

Life pivots on this point.
Resolute but trembling at the threshold,
she considers her new place of belonging.

Releasing pent-up breath,
she takes a draft of courage with familiar paper and pencil:
“#1 Teacher seems nice #2 Not too scary”

—She’s starting kindergarten. 

My granddaughter’s handwritten takeaway following kindergarten Open House:
“#1 Teacher seems nice #2 Not too scary”

Strength and safety to all going back into schools as COVID rages on.

Thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge and for always promoting writing. To paraphrase Donald Graves: Children really do want to write. They want to leave their own marks on the world. At age five, that is. Too often “school” turns writing to a chore, emphasizing receptive literacy over expressive, or valuing the ideas of others over one’s own.

Let us be about nurturing a lifelong love of the craft and belief in the power of one’s own thoughts and voice.

Write bravely.

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.