Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some Final Thoughts on Poetry Month

Today is the last day of April (seems hard to believe) and thus the end of poetry month. But I do hope to post some poems off and on as the weeks continue. And I hope you all will make poetry a part of your lives. One easy way to do that is to listen to a daily broadcast of the Writers' Almanac.

Posting poems (nearly) every day has been an interesting exercise for me. I'm often hesitant to show any of my work before many, many revisions, critiques by trusted friends, many more revisions, etc. So to publish my work, even on such an informal venue as a blog, feels risky to me. But I also benefited from doing so. Several of you helped me revise poems, which I always find helpful. Plus, I got encouragement along the way to keep at it. That always helps.

Being a writer is an odd life. On the one hand, I have to develop this super-tough skin to weather all sorts of rejections and attempt to stay positive so that I can continue working and writing new things. On the other hand, I have to stay vulnerable and sensitive to the emotions of others so that I can portray an authenticity in my writing as well as stay open to critique and edits. So it sometimes feels a bit strange. I'm usually reluctant to share any work until I feel it is "ready" because experience has taught me to wait. I wait because I can easily become discouraged about a project. Keeping that optimism is very important for maintaining motivation, that drive which keeps progress moving on a project that may never have a single reader, except for me. I dream one day of having a published collection of poetry, but poetry is a hard sell since very few people actually spend time reading it.

Anyway, enough rambling. For today, the last day of poetry month, I'll share one of my favorite poems:

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay;
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I should think of some big blow-out poetry fest to end the month, but sadly, I haven't even posted for a few days. Busy! So, since I have nothing else I can come up with quickly, let's have a throw-back to winter. Here goes:

Sled Ride

On a second-hand sled,
we speed over snowcapped mountains
soaring into snowfall.

We shout
the dips and turns,
this way and that
on our winter roller coaster.

Touching down in one
powdery poof,
a snow pile explodes
around us.

We climb off,
wet, laughing,
grinning with cold teeth.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eagle Cam

My writer friend Marcia told me about this website. It's a live-streaming camera of an eagle's nest in British Columbia. Super, super cool!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Inheriting My Grandmother's China

I unwind from a plate
yellowed newspaper from late February
and gaze into the dusty white surface
like looking through a photo album,
as my grandmother's china becomes mine.

I gently lift from the crate
dinners at Easter
gatherings in late November, and
a family of memories embracing these dishes.

we stood at your sink after Thanksgiving
in your pale blue kitchen
with stars in the counter top
and a sequined calendar hanging on the wall.

my sink full of hot bubbles,
I wash away the dust of time
from dishes which waited for my home,
gently massaging the silver-rimmed surface
with my tattered cloth.

One by one, I wash each dish,
a cup,
a saucer,
and storing away,
my cabinets now full
of memories
of you.

(First published in Welcome Home, vol. 15, No. 7; July 1998)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Springy thoughts

Today I'll add a poem about magnolia trees (it's a little short poem), but first, I thought I'd comment on a couple of spring sayings or proverbs that have come to mind recently.

The first is:

Spring is sprung,
De grass is riz.
I wonder where dem birdies is.
Them little birds is on the wing.
Now ain't that just absurd.
I always thought the wings
was on the bird!

I vaguely remember this from my childhood, and I remember thinking it was so strange because the grammar was so messed up. Now I find it charming.

The other one is not so much a poem but a proverb:

Bloom where you are planted.

I remember this one from childhood because my mom had a stained-glass decoration that she set in the bay window, which gave this sage advice.

I have been thinking about this because I'm doing so much reading about the pioneer women on the frontier. They were the ones who provided comfort, nourishment, and sustenance for their families as they walked along their covered wagons, camped out in all elements on their way to the west, and then made a home in spartan conditions once they finally reached their destination. "Blooming where you are planted" applies to them in a very poignant way. They did their best to make homes out of nothing, and in doing so, helped to pave the way for all of us who came after them.

The other saying that pops in my mind is:

Put your nose to the grindstone.

I was reading a book recently in which one of the characters was complaining about his work. He didn't want to do it, it was too difficult, etc. Another character responded: "Well, I'll be glad to put my nose to the grindstone as long as the good Lord gives me a grindstone on which to put my nose." Awesome, eh?

Okay, so now, spring is in full bloom, well, almost full bloom here in northeast Indiana. About a quarter of the trees are leafing out, the daffodils are fading to give room for the tulips to put on their show. The azaleas are blooming, the mowers are mowing the Ireland-green grass.

And, the magnolias are in bloom (so this poem is a little premature), but here goes:

Fallen Petals

Lying beneath
magnolia trees,
pink puddles
of springtime
color the grass.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Summer Bright

June days
s t r e t c h
until daytime light
shines at night.

Then when darkness
finally comes,

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

13 Shades of Gray

A couple of years ago, my very artistic, creative friend Sara Nordling (well, I guess she's one of many friends of mine who are creative and artistic--sheesh, how lucky am I?)...anyway, Sara mentioned to me that there are 13 shades of gray on the official color wheel. When she said that, it was one of those moments when you find poetry. "Found poetry" is, basically, just copying whatever you see. (And "found poetry" sounds so much better than cheating or stealing, doesn't it?) Anyway, it was in that moment that I realized "13 shades of gray" could be an intriguing title to a book, or, as my husband suggested to me over lunch today, it could also be the title to a poem. So, here goes:

13 Shades of Gray

The color wheel spins
shades of reds and blues,
yellows and purples.
in whirling carnivals
of color.

But what of the grays?
the charcoal,
shades of gray?

Those blurry lines
that zigzag
across my life
in smudges
and smears?

The whys
and wherefores,
unanswered questions
unstated dreams
and unfinished sentences
that linger in smoky clouds around me?

Within the kaleidescope of
canary yellow
crimson red
and neon pink,
I stand,
as 13 shades
color me

Monday, April 20, 2009

Growing Spring

Trees stand
bare in winter,

In spring rains
and warmer days,

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Field Day Fun

This afternoon I'll add one of my field day poems. Several years ago, I wrote about 20 poems on all the different events of field day. Field day was definitely my favorite experience of elementary school. We'd look forward to it all year. I am not athletic in the slightest, so it wasn't showing off my skills or the competition that I looked forward to. It was just the fun of playing games, eating popsicles, and being outdoors for a day.

Water Balloon Volleyball

The net is up. The teams are poised,
the water bombs are set.
Anne Marie steps up to serve.
She eyes the sagging net.

The bomb is launched, away it flies,
but gets there with a splash.
The bomb explodes in Richie's hands,
which starts the water bash.

A splash on us. A splash on them,
oh, who will win this game?
Balloons are raining everywhere--
be careful when you aim!

The game goes on. It's getting hot.
Our server tries again.
More points for us. More points for them.
The score is ten to ten.

We're low on bombs. We're getting soaked.
I hope the game's done soon.
Then comes the call: "Game point!" we hear.
It's getting close to noon.

The final bomb then heads our way,
but doesn't clear the net.
And even thought we win the game,
we most liked getting wet.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A slight digression

I'm too tired this evening to write a poem or try to find an old one, so I'll write instead about a couple of other things.

First, I've recently been watching a fantastic PBS series. I first watched Frontier House. My dad reminded me of this show when I was telling him of my research into the 1880s pioneer/frontier life in Kansas Territory (Colorado today). Then I learned from my friend Sara that PBS had produced other projects in this series, so I just finished watching 1900 House.

The idea is to take a modern-day family and have them live in period dress, in a house made up just like it would have been in the historical period, and see how they adapt. So, in Frontier House, three different families traveled in a covered wagon mini-journey to Montana and had to scratch out a living with few resources and lots of hard work for five months. The five months ended in the early fall, and a panel of historical judges decided which families would be best prepared to survive the winter.

In 1900 House, one family lived in a house (more like a "rowhouse" as we Americans would think of it) in south London which was completely fitted in 1900 furnishings, appliances, etc. The women wore corsets and heavy layers of long dresses. The father shaved with a cut-throat razor. The thing the women missed most was leisure time and shampoo. For the latter, they tried all sorts of revolting concoctions like egg yolks and lemon juice, etc. in place of shampoo. It all sounded horrid. And the house was so dark! Gas lamps had been installed in the first floor, but they only had parafin candles on the second floor, but the heavy drapes and dark wallpaper and big, oversized furnishings made the rooms seem oppressive and gloomy--even in broad daylight.

The striking thing for me from watching both of these shows is just how much time we have for other things now. In both Frontier House and 1900 House, two of the women mentioned that washing machines seem like magic compared to the older ways of washing clothing. Having hot water within mere seconds on a tap flowing into the kitchen and into the bathrooms and into the tubs and! And having light in the evening makes such a huge difference. And those are just the basics. Of course, there was no TV, no computer, communication with the outside world was very limited. But taking care of the house--the cooking, the cleaning, the washing, the shopping--all of that would have consumed the housewife's day, and those days would mean heavy, difficult physical labor, only to have the energy at the end of the day to fall into bed.

There are lots of other projects in this PBS series: Texas Ranch House, 1940s House (in England, complete with bomb raid drills, etc.), Colonial House, and probabl others I haven't found yet.

On another note, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Cedarville Elementary just north of Fort Wayne this afternoon. I spoke to the K-3rd graders about my books, where ideas come from, and the writing process. It is always such a joy to visit with the children and hear their thoughts and questions.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Half-way through the month!

I love poetry month, partly because I love spring. Spring can be so depressing--the dreary, cold, windy days that hearken back to winter. But it can also be so wonderfully invigorating on the milder, sunny, lovely days. We have one of the latter today, after two of the former, and, my, am I glad! And all that weather out there just makes me want to write.

A couple of other miscellaneous tidbits before the poem:

Just in case you're in the mood to hear some neighing horses (for whatever reason), here's a good website.

Tonight is opening night for the (weirdly named) Fort Wayne Tin Caps. They are supposed to have fireworks after the game, so I'll be keeping an eye on Lucy, the giant golden retriever who is terrified of thunder and fireworks.

School visit!
Tomorrow I'm looking forward to visiting with the students and teachers at Cedarville Elementary to finish off their young authors week. What a privilege to share writing with kids!

Now the poem:


In my first
wakeful moments,
I lie, eyes open,
before I remember
the history of yesterday,
the future of today,
before my thoughts
resemble patterns of my own,
my day is
unburdened by guilt,
unpressured by dreams.
I simply

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A short poem today

My cat, Sophie, was a gift to me from my sixth grade students at Emmaus Lutheran School in Alhambra, California, many moons ago. She is 14 years old this month. We think she's almost completely deaf now, but other than that, she shows few signs of aging. She definitely picks her favorite people, who are: me, my husband, and our son has limited access. Surprisingly, our giant golden retriever and Sophie have become buddies in the last couple of years. They sit together on the couch with me. I love animals of all kinds, but especially cats and dogs. Pets can be companions and, for some people, can help them in really significant ways. One young woman I know who was struggling with depression and having a very hard time coping with normal life. She got a puppy, and ever since then has been fully functional, doing really well with her life. It's been amazing to see the turn-around in her.

So here's a poem about Sophie. This poem could be easily copied by simply using picture language. The whole thing is just one sentence, using just three words metaphorically.


My black cat
between my ankles
like a

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Summer Storm

I wrote this poem one day after a thunderstorm crashed through the neighborhood. It only lasted 15 or 20 minutes, but it was one of those drenching, dramatic storms that really get your attention.

This is the type of poem that kids could easily create, and it really challenges the use of active verbs (or gerunds, technically speaking). Speaking of gerunds, it might be interesting to try writing it in the present tense too: "Storm comes / Sun hides /" etc. It would be a good thing for children to recognize and analyze. Which form is stronger? With "-ing" endings or present tense endings? How does it change the feeling of the poem?

Also, notice the construction. The subject of each line is repeated in backward order in the second half of the poem. "Scurry, scramble" is the center point. So, have kids write 8-10 subjects, with simple verbs (or gerunds) following each, leading up to a pivotal point in the poem. Then, using the same subjects in reverse order, have the action diminish.

Oh, and another quick thought. Thank you to those of you who have suggested edits to my previous poems! I love the interaction, and I know that my work only can get stronger with good critique. So, thank you!

Summer Storm

Storm coming
Sun hiding
Birds skittering
Sky darkening
Wind gusting
Rain plinking
Lightning flashing
Gutter flooding
Thunder rumbling
Water pouring

Scurry, scramble! Get inside!

Water draining
Thunder quieting
Gutter trickilng
LIghtning fading
Rain dripping
Wind calming
Sky clearing
Sun peeking

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not Yet

"Joseph of Arimathea brought 75 pounds of myrrh to an unused tomb…"

They wrapped
Jesus' bloody body in myrrh,
the scent of death.

This was His baby gift
from magi

his baby gift
became a swaddling cloth
in death

but sweet lilies line
the white-robed altar today

their perfume
the alleluias of life,

but even while swooning in
Easter's lily-laden perfume,
for now,
the scent of myrrh,
the bitterness of death
hangs in the air,
lingering in
sacred spaces

Saturday, April 11, 2009

How things come together

Today's poem comes from 8 years ago, but it's really a mish-mash of several poems I've written over the last few years. Every once in awhile, when I visit Colorado, my childhood home, I sense with full force the history of the place, the westward expansion, the hope for gold, the pioneering families struggling to eke out a living. There's a romance in it, but also a sense of connection to the land, the mountains, this place where my first memories were made. These thoughts over the years have finally melded into a work of fiction that I am currently writing.

June 19, 2001, Touchdown

In the flat plains
north of Denver,
our plane bumps
onto the runway
in midafternoon sun.

Suddenly, I am in 1880,
a settler
in the red dirt.
My hair, in a bun,
my dress,
long as Sunday,
my hands,
rough and calloused.
I shield my eyes from the sun
as I look for my man
through dusty wind,
waiting for gold,
settling for flour
to feed my family.

A memory engulfs me:
the claustrophobia
of trees,
of western Pennsylvania,
crowding thick upon me.

But now I open my eyes,
stretch out my
wide as miles,

Friday, April 10, 2009


When we lived in Pittsburgh, I was in and out of our church fairly often. I usually went in through the side entrance, which was closer to our parsonage.

Every year, on Maundy Thursday afternoon or Good Friday morning, the order of Easter lilies would be delivered and placed in the stairwell near the sacristy. Seeing those lilies, after the arduous season of Lent, especially at the end of Holy Week made such an impression on me that every year I wrote poems about the lilies. The scent of Easter lilies, to me, is the sweetest for so many reasons.


Into the darkness,
the gloom,
the despair
of the tomb
is the scent
of hope,

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Woman at Prayer

From a slab of cold marble,
pale as death,
weighty and strong,
an artist
with pictures in mind
and art in his chisel
creates a delicate face,
full of health, beauty, movement and grace.

From a rock, stone-cold,
dead, hard,
arises a phoenix,
a creation
aglow with vigor.

And she looks at me
with eyes, light and dancing,
bidding me to come
and pray.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Forest Fears

Today's poem is one I wrote about 9 years ago. As I re-read my journals from years ago, I am encouraged and frightened. Encouraged, because I think that what I wrote wasn't terrible, and frightened because I'm afraid I've "lost" it. I believe--at least I like to believe--that many writers feel this way. That I've already written my best stuff, that there's not much left in me to write, etc.

So the key is--wait for it--to keep writing! Whether it's crummy or good, boring or engrossing, just keep at it. First drafts usually stink. Or better put, first drafts may have good potential or have a glimmer or something good in them, but really aren't the best a writer can create. Revision is always the key.

But in my experiment this month, I'm boldly and nervously putting out some rougher drafts to stick with my challenge of every-day-poetry-writing. With that introduction, here is "Forest Fears."

Forest Fears

Hansel and Gretel: lost and alone,
Little Red Riding Hood: met by a rude wolf,
Snow White: escaped an evil queen,
Goldilocks: trouble.

So it's no wonder when
forest shadows creep closer,
and day fades fast,
my feet walk faster,
my heart pounds,
my stomach quivers.

But when I am safe at home,
cozy, under blankets,
I remember that

Hansel and Gretel: found their good father.
Red Riding Hood: outsmarted the wolf.
Snow White: won her prince.
And Goldilocks: learned to stick close to home.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Two poems for today

I'm finding some old files of "opposite poems" I wrote a few years ago to fill up my (maybe-not-so-wise-idea of) month full of poems. Here are two. I was trying to think of all sorts of opposites. I had the playground and baseball on the mind when I wrote these. They are just silly little poems that play with the opposite concepts and words.

Back - Forth

pump -- reach
bend -- glide
back -- forth
swing -- ride

I -- fly
you --soar
just -- one
push -- more!


Am I a better batter than him?
Is he a badder batter than me?

Is badder

Is better

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Day 5, Poem 4

I know. I'm one poem behind. I was out of town on Friday, so I didn't have time to post a poem.

I love the simplicity of haiku. I have written a picture book manuscript in all haiku stanzas about a young Japanese girl who moved to the U.S. and adapts by sharing her origami with a new friend.

Traditional haiku is 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third and last. Typically, also, it revolves around themes that have to do with nature or the seasons.

Here is a haiku for Palm Sunday:

Palms and hosannas,
songs and prayers we offer, Lord,
such small gifts we bring.

But our gifts cannot,
do not compare to the One
who gave everything.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

From Me to You

My letter flies,
My letter floats.
It even takes the train.

Through gloomy nights
and sunny days,
and even in the rain.

It's on a truck.
The miles add up.
It's far away from here.

It's on a long,
cross-country trip,
but should be getting near.

It finally comes
to your front door.
It took so long to haul!

My letter flew
from me to you,
but next time I'll just call!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Walking in the Woods

After winter's cruelty:
icy trees,
ground, frozen hard as stone,
eternal nights, brightened only with dim candlelight,
I am a stranger to sunlight,
layered in polyfill, wool,
wrapped in a scarf,
capped with a hat.

But now,
I shed winter skin,
stepping onto the forest floor,
the carpet rolled out,
green tufts of grass,
strewn with wildflowers,
and I walk
into springtime.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April Fool's Day

Okay, well, here's the first draft. Any suggestions for edits?

An April Fool's Day Limerick

On the first day of April each year,
I always get shivers of fear.
Will I get worms in my lunch?
Or flies in my punch?
Today's a good day to disappear OR It's best to be absent--that's clear!

I don't like that last line (which is why I have two options, neither of which I like). So I reversed the whole thing. I'm still not sure if it works, but I think the last line is better.
What do you think of option B?

An April Fool's Day Limerick

Some find this day filled with cheer,
but I find myself shivering in fear.
Will I get worms in my lunch?
Or flies in my punch?
It's the scariest day of the year!