Tag Archives: poetry

I’m ready.

For all sorts of reasons, this time of year points to new beginnings. After a long, drawn out winter, I say, yeah. It’s about time.

I took a long walk with a friend today, and we passed by tiny purple flowers pushing through last year’s lawns. We saw daffodils and the beginnings of tulips, too, but the purple flowers held my attention. One bloom by itself did little to change the landscape; clustered together, though, they whispered a promise.

Wood Violet Petals 10

I can’t wait.

Lately, I’ve been behaving like a madwoman, cleaning out drawers and clearing out space and rearranging furniture in the house, perhaps making way for this new energy.

And, while this post speaks of “new,” I’m re-posting something old, a Wednesday’s Word poem written around this time last year, because it too says, Hey. Get up. Get a move on.

Shake it off and look around….

Wake Up.

I am nudged awake
By the snout
Of my black lab.
Whose chin,
Wet from her morning drink,
Shocks me
And ensures
I don’t drop off
To sleep again.

She demands her walk.

Eyes barely open,
I slip into last night’s jeans,
A crumpled shirt, my crocks.
And, I turn to see
She’s holding the leash
In her mouth-
A sign that I
Am moving
Too slow.

“It’s early yet,”
I whisper,
And, I hope
For a quiet walk.
But my sleek, dark friend
Has a different plan,
And she pulls me
Through a cacophony
Of music.

The sounds of a city revving up its day.

Squeaky brakes from a bus
Pitch an off-key tune,
And a jackhammer down the block
Sets the beat.
Bada-dum.
Bada-dum.
Bada-dum.
I am pulled by my dog
‘Til my pace falls in line.

I hear sounds from the left
And noise from the right
Like instruments, I think,
And I swear
People are hiding
In alleys,
With cymbals
And triangles
And maybe a wood block.

They play a song
Of the city
Coming alive.
A tune
That celebrates.
Invigorates,
And culminates
When we reach
The fountain.

She stops,
My four-legged guide,
And looks right at me
With a grin. She’s sly.
I cock my head.
The water rises and falls
Like the sound of applause
From an audience, unseen.
~
What new things are coming to life in your part of town?

On Stanley Kunitz, Memoir, and Fiction

Sitting in my critique group the other night, it was Stanley Kunitz who came to mind as we discussed the challenges in writing memoir.

Not because Stanley Kunitz wrote memoir, but because his poem, The Layers, seemed to answer the question of how to write memoir.

How does a writer condense decades of one’s life into 300 pages?

What years do you ignore? Which memories do you highlight? And, how do you make it all come together without retelling every minute of every day of how you got from there to here?

After my mother passed away, a good friend gave me Stanley Kunitz’s book, The Collected Poems, and she pointed me to page 217. The poem,  The Layers, in its entirety, is a beautiful tribute to loved ones gone but never forgotten. We are touched by the people in our lives in a way that, even after their presence is diminished – for one reason or another – we still feel their power.

Two specific passages from that poem stayed with me during the early days, months, years of grieving for my mother. Then, as I sat around the table with other writers and talked about memoir, those passages burst forth again:

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.


Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

Writing memoir isn’t about retelling every detail of every day. It’s about picking and choosing those pivotal moments, or about recounting those powerful relationships in our lives, that served as a catalyst – that swayed us one way or another or shifted our perspective slightly – and forced us to grow and to change.

I mentioned the poem to my critique partners, and the second I related it to memoir, I realized the same principle applies to fiction. The main character in my WIP has experienced pivotal moments in her life as well. I don’t have to wrestle her into confessing every gorey detail about her life from first memory and beyond. I only need to discover places along her journey where she stayed – just long enough – that they left an imprint, and I only need to write on the people in her life who, like precious stones, line her path of character development.

*****

Kunitz, Stanley. The Collected Poems. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. Print.

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It’s Wednesday. Wake up.

Every Wednesday, I write a post based on Today’s Word at Wordsmith.org. You can find past essays or flash fiction pieces under the Wednesday’s Word topic on the sidebar.

From Wordsmith.org, Today’s word:

callithump. noun. 1. A noisy, boisterous celebration or parade. 2. A mock serenade with pots, pans, kettles, etc., given for a newly married couple. Also known as charivari or shivaree.

And, as we near the end of National Poetry Month, I dare to write a poem and end this post with a song.

*****

Wake Up.

I am nudged awake
By the snout
Of my black lab.
Whose chin,
Wet from her morning drink,
Shocks me
And ensures
I don’t drop off
To sleep again.

She demands her walk.

Eyes barely open,
I slip into last night’s jeans,
A crumpled shirt,
My crocks.
And, I turn to see
She’s holding the leash
In her mouth-
A sign that I
Am moving
Too slow.

“It’s early yet,”
I whisper,
And, I hope
For a quiet walk.
But my sleek, dark friend
Has a different plan.

She pulls me along
Through a cacophony of music,
The sounds of a city
Revving up its day.

Squeaky brakes from a bus
Pitch an off-key tune,
And a jackhammer
Down the block
Sets the beat.
Bada-dum.
Bada-dum.
Bada-dum.
I am pulled by my dog
Until my pace falls in line.

I hear sounds from the left
And noise from the right
Like instruments, I think,
And I swear
People must be
Hiding
In alleys,
With cymbals
And triangles
And maybe a wood block.

They play a song
Of the city
Coming alive.
A tune
That culminates
When we reach
The fountain.

She stops,
My four-legged guide,
And looks right at me
With a grin. She’s sly.
I cock my head
As the water rises
And falls
Like the sound
Of applause
From an audience
Unseen.

*****

And, the song that woke me up this morning and reminded me to look around and listen and breathe. Happy Wednesday, folks!

On a side note: In an effort not to confuse anyone who knows me well enough, the poem is fictional. I don’t have a black lab. But, if I did, I wouldn’t need an alarm clock.

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In Texas

I live a double life.

My right leg stands in a state
With four seasons and my eye towards the future,
While my left foot dips in another,
Searching for remnants of
Pastures and two-lane roads.
And, each time I return,
To one home or the other,
I am torn.

I sat at the lunch table.
My daughter on my left; my grandmother on my right.
One spoke in sing-song silliness,
The other spoke in running commentary
Of my history.

In my chest,
There was a stirring
Of emotions.

I looked around and saw
That I would be the only one
To cry.
So I willed my eyes dry.
And, I swallowed, hard, my gulp of tea.
I listened, instead,

To my grandmother’s stories as they rolled off her tongue.
Her thin lips formed each detail
With confidence and accuracy.
Her voice never wavered.
Her eyes twinkled when she spoke
Of mischief
And narrowed when the subject grew dark.

No one questioned her faith.
In fact, I wondered if I, too,
Could send away the Devil
With one loud rebuke,
“In the name of God!”

For five or six hours
She sat in the same chair,
Cushioned with a leather pillow,
As listeners cycled.
She leaned in with gossip.
She leaned over with advice.
She leaned back with a smile.

I burned her image into my mind.
I tried hard to memorize her words,
So I could repeat them,
In years to come,

To my daughter,
Who won’t remember
The moment at the lunch table
With Nanny
In Texas.