Mystery prompts…

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, Exploring mysteries, here’s a list of questions that have magically appeared in my supposed-to-be-empty WordPress blog posts this month:

What is one thing that you would change about myself?

What are five things you’re good at?

Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited? Where is it?

What big events have taken place in your life over the last year?

What could you do less of?

Have you ever performed on stage or given a speech?

Tell about your first day at something—school, work, as a parent, etc.

What skills or lessons have you learned recently?

Is your life today where you pictured it a year ago?

All you writer-friends out there know the power of a good prompt for overcoming writer’s block, for reaching far and deep, tapping into memory and emotion. Writing itself is a release. It is healing. Perhaps even preventive medicine. Writing is a unique means of expression, of thinking, of creativity, of craftsmanship. It is a singular key for unlocking many mysteries, the greatest of all being yourself.

When gifts are offered, take them…they’re meant for your benefit, enjoyment, edification. The WordPress elves at work behind the scenes here clearly know this. These prompts are likely meant to be answered one by one (I have written to two: one thing I would change about myself and what skills I’ve learned recently) but today I wonder if I could tie them all into one reflection. For better or worse, here goes…

It is said that change is constant. I am constantly changing, growing older, a little slower. I would not change this. It is the price of having been alive a while. I’m willing to pay it. What one thing would I change about myself? My answer now would be different than it would have been years ago. I might have chosen something superficial, having to do with my appearance. Now I am much more concerned with my spirit. How do I narrow what I’d change to just one thing? I should choose to be more gracious, patient, forgiving, even loving…but as I write, the word listen blankets everything else that comes to mind. I would listen to others more. Not with my ears. With my soul. To hear what lies behind their words, their actions. Words are a thing I’m good with, usually. Were I to comprise a list of five things I’m good at, words are linked to at least half of it: I’m good at reading, writing (so I’m told…I do love it and work at it), imagining, wondering, and drinking coffee. In a way these are the five pillars of my daily life, the things I enjoy most, next to time spent with my family. When my boys were small my grandmothers told me that I was a good mother. Their simple proclamation, a revelation of their great esteem for motherhood, felt like the bestowment of a royal title. My boys have the final say, however. Children know all their parents’ flaws, eventually. What matters is that they know how much they are loved and that they learn to love. It is the beginning of belonging. It is why, when asked if I have a favorite place, I’m always going to talk about my grandparents’ home deep in the countryside, along an old dirt road (it’s gravel now). I haven’t been since the house has been torn down and a new one built for a young family. While I dread going because of that, another part of me desperately longs to go…to walk the old road once more, to remember being a child, hearing my grandmother’s old, old stories and my grandfather’s raspy, warm I love you when he offered his clean-shaven cheek to me for a goodnight kiss… again, listen. I imagine sensing them near even if all I hear is the breeze rustling the Spanish moss which wasn’t there, hanging there from the treetops, when I was a child. Once upon a time, though, there were little bridges along the road, due to the many canals…I don’t know what became of those bridges. But the tiny church at the crossroads remains, where my grandparents are buried with generations of my ancestors. One day soon, I must go. I carry them all and their stories with me… I am their story, the continuation of it, as my granddaughters are mine. They are the greatest event of my life in the last three years, one coming into our family at age three and the other born just over a year ago. They are the big event of my every day. I can almost hear Grandma chuckling…now you understand. Listen, listen. Carve time away from the clamor of the world to be still…to minimize distractions, to be fully present when another human is speaking to me, especially my young ones, especially my quiet son with the musical gifts and beautiful singing voice. So many layers there. Listen. I need to be less concerned with work; it is my livelihood, not my life. The family is my life. My pastor-husband, my pastor-son and his girls, The Boy and his music and funeral ministry, all our dogs, the church, the faith, the Lord God, Giver of all good gifts, including life, are my life. How perfect are His ways. Long ago when I was performing in plays and traveling to audition for acting school in New York, I could not have dreamed it would lead me to where I am now, that at nineteen I’d meet the man I’d marry through community theater. The title of that play: Whose Life Is It Anyway? Not just mine. Ours. It was ordained. I had an inkling of it, that first day after we were married, when we stood in the crashing ocean waves and I held onto my new gold wedding band for dear life, for fear of losing it. I knew salt isn’t good for jewelry. I just couldn’t bring myself to remove the ring. New beginnings are so fragile at first. As are new ideas. All these years into our journey, we still look for the new even within the old: we are going to learn how to use that Dobsonian telescope I got us for Christmas. We shall soon be wandering among the stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, all extending their glittering invitation every cold, cold night. I just learned I wasn’t using the finderscope properly. How poetic. Metaphorical. That’s what writing is for me… a finderscope. Through it I see the memories, the gratitude, the loves of my life…the light from years past, still meeting me right where I am today; I would not change a thing about that.

*******

with thanks to WordPress for the magical prompts and to Two Writing Teachers for the story-sharing place.

Happy holidays to all.

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.

Shoe poem

For VerseLove on Ethical ELA today, Andy Schoenborn invites teacher-poets to write “tumble down poetry” about shoes:

“For the small spaces they occupy, poems can cause writers to freeze. To break a poem free, try writing a paragraph or two of prose and, then, watch a poem tumble down with this process… today let’s write about shoes. Please take three minutes and write in prose about a pair of shoes that you’ll never forget… Once your paragraph is written, look for naturally occurring repetition, alliteration, striking images, and moments of emphasis fit for enjambments. Then play with the structure and form as a poem ‘tumbles down’ the page.”

It’s amazing, when you stop to think about it, how many shoe stories we have… this memory from long ago quickly overshadowed all others for me today.

Shoe Story

Fifth grade
studying mythology

the teacher says:
Now you will write
your own myth

sometimes myths
are about inventions
or journeys
or transformations

what can I write
about any of these?

I think
I sigh
I look
around the room

rainslapped windows
there was a time when
my parents would have made me
pull galoshes over my shoes

I hate hate hate my shoes
saddle oxfords
— I call them sadlocks
black and white
or in my case, 
black and gray
needing polish
again

everyone else
wears Hush Puppies
suede desert boots

Be grateful
for what you have
I’ve been told
by various grownups
in my life

(who do not have to wear
sadlocks)

I wonder
who ever invented
these stupid stupid shoes

I wonder when shoes
were invented

—wait—

a picture forms in my mind
a boy, living in a village
by the sea
where the sand is soft
where no one needs shoes…

I grab my pencil

I write him into being

this boy who had to save
his village by climbing
the mountain
where sharp rocks cut his feet
where he made shoes
from big leaves, tied
with strips of bark

on his return to the village
everyone started wearing shoes
in honor of their hero,
Shoeani.

Saddle oxfords. MBK (Marjie). CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Ancient shoes. Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints. CC BY 2.0.

Burrows and seeds poetry

On Day 4 of National Poetry Month, Jennifer Guyor Jowett, inspired by poet Irene Latham, offers this invitation for VerseLove at Ethical ELA: “Create your own burrow. Find a seed at the end of the piece, something to begin your own writing today. Let it serve as a title or beginning line.”

I borrowed some of these beautiful ending lines from fellow VerseLove poet, Kevin Hodgson:

We poets keep watching
for dust, falling,
in flight.

Ars Poetica: Dustcatching

We poets keep watching for dust, falling
we would capture it with our hands
feel it on our tongues as it lands
genesis of words breathing life
dust to dust, falling 
from the stars

from the stars
dust to dust, falling
genesis of words breathing life
feel it on our tongues as it lands 
we would capture it with our hands
we poets keep watching for dust, falling

Stardust. Send me adrift. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Ingredient poem

Thanks to John Noreen who hosted yesterday’s Ethical ELA Open Write with the invitation to pay homage to food that comforts and sustains us. John focused on process; he suggested that we “create the way we cook.” He says when he cooks, he takes a central ingredient and gets going, improvising along the way.

Sounds like a metaphor for writing to me…

Daily Writing Staple

An idea forms
inside my brain
like an egg forms
within a bird


one moment
nothing
and the next
the shell
of something


I feel new presence
of fragile life
within

or at least
the provisional sac
of nourishment
for building and 
sustaining life
as it forms

deep inside
living membrane

until it should hatch
and eventually fly
on wings of its own


or

like my breakfast egg
boiled for long enough
at the right temperature
the idea solidifies
and gives life
to me

one simple ingredient
containing a whole world
of possibility

and I almost never settle
for just one.

*******

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

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


Breakaway poem play

At SOS—Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, Ruth encourages playing with paragraphing and line breaks, as “a simple break changes the sound and, sometimes, the meaning.”

I am resharing this memoir poem I wrote a few months ago, wherein I played with line breaks. I am still playing with them.

This is one of my favorites. For many reasons. A scene I witnessed last year, during my husband’s recovery:

The Passing

She comes out of his study carrying it
in her four-year-old arms
and his face is transformed, glowing
as if a passing cloud has uncovered the sun.
He leans forward in the recliner as she
drops it, kicks it, sets it spinning
—Oh, no, he says, this one’s not for kicking,
it’s for dribbling, just as the ball stops
at his feet. He reaches down, lifts it
with the easy grace of the boy on the court,
hands perfectly placed on the worn brown surface
in split-second calculation of the shot
so many times to the roar of the school crowd
so many hours with friends, his own and then
his son’s, still outscoring them all, red-faced,
heart pounding, dripping with sweat, radiant
—and at twelve, all alone on the pavement
facing the hoop his mother installed
 in the backyard of the new house
after his father died, every thump echoing
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.
The game’s in the blood, the same DNA
that just last year left him with a heart full
of metal and grafts, too winded to walk
more than short distances, having to stop
to catch his breath, deflated
—it needs some air. Do you have a pump,
he asks his son, sitting there on the sofa,
eyes riveted to the screen emitting
continuous squeaks of rubber soles
against hardwood.
—Yeah, Dad. I’ve got one and the needle, too.
His father leans in to the little girl at his knee,
his battered heart in his hands:
—Would you like to have it?
She nods, grinning, reaching,
her arms, her hands
almost too small
to manage the old brown sphere
rolling from one to the other
like a whole world
passing.

Photo: Marcus BalcherCC BY-SA

More fun wordplay in my post title: A hinged basketball hoop that bends downward with a slam dunk and springs back into place is called a breakaway rim.

If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join the open-hearted group at
Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.
#sosmagic

Also celebrating poems and poets in the vibrant Poetry Friday community – many thanks to Margaret Simon for hosting the Roundup at Reflections on the Teche.

Hold on loosely

Grab hold

Grab hold! Jannes PockeleCC BY

Just hold on loosely,
but don’t let go
If you cling too tightly
you’re gonna lose control. 

—38 Special/D. Barnes, J. Carlisi, J. Peterik

The draft of this post has been sitting here a long time, gathering cobwebs, while I considered how to write it. The idea began with seeing connections between teaching, instructional coaching, parenting…with those cautionary lyrics, above, coming to mind: “If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”

That’s the problem with many relationships, isn’t it. Control. As in, who‘s trying to assert it? By holding too tightly? By force? What are the consequences? Why do I think of Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun trying to prove who was stronger by making the Traveler remove his cloak? What does this imply about human nature?

And not just human nature…that little green vine in the photo, above…it has goals, doesn’t it? To keep growing, climbing, gaining strength daily…soon the difference between “holding on loosely” and “clinging too tightly” will be evident in the absolute destruction it will wreak. It cannot know the cost to whatever tree, gate, house, other plants, anything it overtakes.

How did I land here, when I began with thinking on connective threads of teaching, coaching, parenting? Where will my metaphorical thinking take me next? What philosophical point am I trying to make?

Is this out of control now? How DO I write this persistent…thing?

When at a loss to say what can hardly be said, there’s always poetry. Maybe that’s what this idea wants to be…

Each poem is a metaphor, a philosophy, a journey of its own. This one, like life, goes fast. The form is designed for that. Sylvia Plath said that once a poem is written, interpretation belongs to the reader. Read it just to read, then maybe reread to decide for yourself if you see threads of teaching, coaching, parenting…and more. With poetry, there’s always more.

So here’s where the poem took me. I landed in a blitz: “Hold On Loosely.”

Have only today
Have and to hold
Hold my hand
Hold it dear
Dear one
Dear children
Children laughing
Children leaving home
Home is wherever YOU are
Home place
Place of remembering
Place in the sun
Sun rising in the east
Sun dappling the grass
Grass rippling in the breeze
Grass withering, fading
Fading light
Fading fast
Fast go the hours
Fast and furious
Furious argument
Furious storms
Storms wreaking havoc
Storms passing
Passing over
Passing by
By the way
By getting to work
Work it out
Work hard
Hard to handle
Hard to reach
Reach anyway
Reach out
Out of time
Out of breath
Breath of fresh air
Breath of life
Life is short
Life is precious
Precious moments
Precious faces
Faces in photographs
Faces tugging at heartstrings
Heartstrings reverberating at final words
Heartstrings tied loosely
Loosely hold on
Loosely, not letting go.
go…
on…

What threads did you see?

Oh, and writer-friends…maybe reread one last time to see how the blitz might describe a relationship with writing.

Having shaken off the cobwebs, I go on…

Learning decay wordplay

Today on the Ethical ELA blog, teacher-librarian-poet Linda Mitchell kicks off a five-day Open Write invitation by using lists for composing poetry (read her beautiful “Wishing Well Price List” poem and other inspiring offerings here).

Now, I am a notorious list-maker, so much so that my husband once asked: “What are you writing now?”

To which I replied, absently, while hunched over a scrap of paper: “A list.”

“ANOTHER list? For what?”

I hesitated to confess, but I did, in a decidedly small voice … “A list of lists I have to make.”

So. If I am going to base a poem on one of my myriad lists, I must choose quickly or I’ll never begin.

The first thing I turned to in my scrawly notebook idea-keeper was a list of rhyming words based on the phrase “learning decay.” I heard a fellow educator use it recently, expressing concern for children returning to school in the fall after having been out for five months (or longer) due to COVID-19. That idea has been sitting dormant … maybe waiting for just this moment, this prompt, as a lens to lend focus. What can I make of this list? What would help prevent “learning decay” for kids? For ANYONE? For me the answer is always twofold: Read. Write. Always.

One last thing: Kids need to know that writing is more than an assignment and generally hateful chore. They can do it anywhere, anytime, about anything. There are no limits, only endless discoveries. A notebook is a gateway for making sense of the world and discovering what you think and feel … a safe haven, a springboard, a sounding board, a lifeline, a reliquary for housing fragile new ideas, precious fragments of self. It can be on paper. On a screen. It can be a recording. A drawing. Any means of capturing thoughts, impressions, expressions. I use multiple mediums, myself. You’re reading one now. To me, moments spent writing are never wasted; growth is inevitable.

Here’s my rather rapid-fire poem based on “learning decay” and the list of rhyming words in my notebook:


Learning decay?
No, not today.
Strive to allay.
So invite play:
a word ballet,
a thought bouquet.
True soul portray,
not self-betray.
Notebook away,
the cost defray –
Recoup the day.