Wednesday, April 30, 2008

#29 Certain days resonate

Certain days resonate and months –
May, August, December – carry meaning
in our personal calendar.
These are the days we never forget:
birthing days for those long gone,
marrying days full of song.
What if those days marked by hours
simply went away?
What if we lost them, one by one,
No Saturdays in April,
No Mondays ever again?
No how-many-days-until?
I could then live past morning, warmed
only by the sun and you,
sleep when I wish,
and forget entirely
about the inexorable march of days.

Monday, April 28, 2008

#28 A Mermaid Sestina

If ever I could truly see mermaids,
looking deeply past the wet wind
blowing across the sea, to know their stories, like knives
that open like segmented oranges,
half a memory of underwater stones
that in my imagination yet dance

A willful twirling endless dance
between waves floating with mermaids
falling into the depths like stones,
only the wild wind,
scented with oranges,
brings memories that cut like knives

When I was a child, such knives
were but an excuse to run away, an invisible dance
apart, drawn back by quiet afternoons, a blue bowl of oranges,
and the siren song of mermaids
promising haven from the constant wind,
and the coldness of stones.

I carry this knowledge within me, stones
carefully sharpened to knives
flying faster and truer through the wind.
Waist water deep, I wade into the dance
and float with one hundred mermaids
bobbing in the ocean, so many oranges.

My fingers sweetly perfumed with rinds of oranges,
my mind flies freely as sand pummeled from stones.
I swim to the edge of the sky where mermaids
separate the sea from the sky with sharpened knives,
their green sea-tails glimmering with dance,
trailing starfish in the wind

And a thousand, thousand stars fall beneath the wind
into the sea that smells of oranges,
the waves spread out into a great dark dance,
white-tipped waves float out over deepwater stones,
dawn edges the world with knives.
Until the dawn, I float, surrounded by mermaids.

I breathe them in, these mermaids, as a fierce wind
of knives with no forgiveness; the scent of oranges
lifts from stone, inspiring me to dance.

Today's prompt as we move to the end of April, to write a sestina for National Poetry Month, comes from Poetic Asides. This is the very first time I've ever tried this very formal form which requires each line end with a certain word in a certain order, so you'll notice the repetition, ending with all six words in the final three lines. My six words were: mermaids, wind, stones, knives, oranges, and dance. More sestinas are posted at Poetic Asides (see link at the right).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

#27 One side of a conversation

In the deep woods,
black bear dances,
white wolf pauses to howl,
red fox runs through the forest.
Rabbit hops behind trees, gray mouse quivers,
white-tailed deer stops grazing.

Brown turtle swims deep in a dream lake,
fish leap in chorus, frog slides into cloud,
butterfly flutters, cardinal swoops down
bearing a branch of red-tipped leaves,
turkey vulture flies over sacred mountains.

Spider weaves dream web.
Story teller spins tale.
Green-throated hummingbird
hovers close, closer,
still for an instant.
The moon listens.

Today’s prompt from Poetic Asides asks us to write a poem that tells one side of a conversation as part of April and National Poetry Month.

#26 The moon rises just when . . .

The moon rises just when
stars float in deep night.
All in the house sleep.
The flowers begin to sing,
and the poet begins to dance.
Tikkun olam: the world heals itself.

Friday, April 25, 2008

#25 What is the future of the planet?

I’m dreaming of the Mediterranean,
something sweet in my mouth, Egyptian
honey and a dusty walk to pyramids
five millennia old. I touched
their building blocks of rock, the pyramids
a constant presence so close to Cairo,
and later up the Nile, we moved from pyramid
to temple at Luxor. We traced hieroglyphics
on columns: lotus and papyrus.

In Greece, we walked where oracles once spoke
and saw temple columns scattered by time.
We drank from Athena’s holy shrine,
shaded by olive trees. And in Rome,
under a clear blue sky, tucked in a corner
of the Forum, fresh cut roses honored Caesar.

In England, Stonehenge drew us north of London,
around that circle of stones, once the center
for a people older than the druids,
the path worn smooth.
Something in the sky resonates still
as it does in the great valley of Mexico
at Teotihuacan, between the temple of the sun
and the temple of the moon, where sun-faded
murals record forgotten battles; further south,
iguanas scatter across empty courtyards at Copan,
and howler monkeys shriek in the heat of the day.

Tonight I’m dreaming of a future world.
How we have fought and loved and left behind
so few talismans. The future: What can it bring
but the same dreadful mix of beauty and horror?
I can yet hope for a world without war.
Our planet has a future, but humans? I’m less sure.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

#24 Blue Dog

Blue dog, your surprised look
follows me
all the way from New Orleans,
unforgettable stare, dog to human,
as if the human artist who created you
could no longer comprehend
what he saw.

Blue dog, you are one blue dog,
one very blue dog,
static in a world of change,
jiving through Jazz Fest,
so needy, so innocent, so lovable, swirling up
out of the history of Cajun country,
just a dog,
yet I carry your image with me everywhere.

Your face, iconic,
I read your eyebrows: puzzlement, as if
not even a dog could make sense
of the crazy world you see.
You capitalistic running pig of a blue dog,
one day you will appear
on purses and stockings, plastic glasses
and cars. I can see you painted
on the walls of my house, a blue dog of dreams;
I stare at you so long maybe I see
a self-portrait. Maybe I see an artist
at long last, maybe.

The prompt for today’s poem comes Poetic Asides and from the paintings of George Rodrigue, creator of the “blue dog” series, a well-known New Orleans artist honored this spring by a retrospective exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art in a city still slowly recovering from Katrina. Rodrigue’s work uses the blue dog as a kind of metaphor for the artist’s experience, unforgettable.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

#22 For Rachel

Today I walked inside a church
hung with quilts of many colors, some
stitched by hand, some appliquéd.
Intricate lines dissect
what once was necessary,
now a work of art.

My hands
take on this work,
turning fabric wheels
into flowers, a vision of traditions
connecting me to you,
you who stitch lines straighter
than I ever will,
dear daughter.

Monday, April 21, 2008

#21 Dream Paintings

Aboriginal Australians made these paintings
to mark journeys across sandhills and by waterholes,
mirroring body paint on foreheads, chests and legs,
starting an inner journey of initiation,
from elders to the young.

They wander through the desert; their
stories and ritual travel with them
like the tiny dots on these paintings,
coded snakes, interlocking water caves,
star shapes, and kangaroo man,
the palette black, gray, orange,
red, brown and pure white.

Even today, the paintings dazzle
with round circles and symbols
too private to decode. These artists,
these men and women, travel separately
even in their dreams.

See some images of these paintings at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia that I visited today.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

#20 A Love Poem

The volume could be lower.
Silence would be best.
Tonight the History channel
vies with ESPN. World War II
echoes around me as I try
to write a love poem, today’s
poetic aside.

Serious tones announce German attacks.
Next voices rise with excitement:
the 76ers have won a NBA game. Innings pass;
76,000 men are taken prisoners.
I think love is here
in this rented room,
in the words I do not speak,
in the poem I don’t write.

Today's prompt comes from Poetic Asides, a source of inspiration for those attempting to write a poem a day for Napowrimo and April as National Poetry Month. We have been 230 days on the road and today visited the very beautiful Frontier Museum in Charlottesville, Virginia, so I'm well used to balancing my laptop and most of the time can block out noise. I thought the prompt was a very difficult one to respond to since so much has been written (and so well) about love.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

#19 Nothing quite surprises . . .

Nothing quite surprises
like pink dogwood in the spring, unless
a cardinal flashes red
across a field and into the
thinning hardwood forests,
well before the trees have sprung leaves.

Friday, April 18, 2008

#18 What Songs We Sing . . .

What songs we sing when we are young;
poetry flies from us
like dandelion seeds in the wind.
Sometimes poems hide from us,
tucked away in unexpected places.
We catch glimpses, write,
or don’t write at all. Then, despite sadness or loss,
the great tragedies of life we all know,
we find poems everywhere,
in every flower,
every mourning, every rain storm,
even a sleeping cat or common cliché,
transformed by some way of seeing,
beyond passion,
not wisdom alone, nor experience,
but words in a certain order,
dancing to a rhythm that only we know.

This poem came after a very long and wonderful day, exploring Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We were so tired tonight that I didn't think I could draft even another poem, yet this one came and connected right to this week's Sunday Scribblings. Note: the use of "mourning" is purposeful.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

#17 Grandad

Grandad kept a saddle in his office,
plain, well worn,
next to a locked cabinet
full of guns I never learned to name.
On the wall, he put sepia photographs of Indians
next to that picture of my grandmother,
Chicago-bred but wearing chaps
on her wedding day back in 1920.

My granddad ran away to be a cowboy,
leaving behind a scrabble-hard Missouri farm
he always called misery. He tamed wild horses,
sang cowboy songs in saloons, and ran cattle
in the wild west. He could whittle,
tell bear stories, and hunt snakes.

He used to chase my sister and me
through the house with his false teeth.
We squealed and ran, never doubting he
would get us, like some bogeyman.
He taught me how to skin a deer
with a thin knife, flicking the hairy pelt
away from the flesh.

Years later, he rode a wheelchair
like a wild horse. “Let ‘er buck,” he cried.
He lived to be 100 exactly,
my grandad.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

#16 The Bear Clan

I have come to the place,
in the Great Smoky Mountains,
atop Clingmans Dome,
where bears once danced before
the winter snows fell,
before the bears left the forest
to hunt new foods and sniff out
vacationers who camped in tents,
before paved highways and road crews,
before 11 million people descended on this park.

I dream of a time
when only the sun broke the morning sky,
when a mystical purple lake appeared,
full of fishes of all colors, paw prints
everywhere on the sand, and
swarms of birds rising up in the sky.

Let me sit down by such a lake,
deep purple with healing,
inside my own vision to dance
with the bears.

This poem was inspired by a hike up to the top of Clingmans Dome today and a story in a Great Smoky Mountains Association brochure about the enchanted lake of Atagahi, a place sacred to the Cherokees and a place where bears once danced.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Napowrimo and Sunday Scribblings

I'm exploring the topic of "fearless" from Sunday Scribblings this week and have written two more poems, but they won't appear here. This prompt is (perhaps for many who are writing this week and at least for me) a dark challenge. My two poems below ("Victorian Ladies" and "Vincent Van Gogh") are ones I can share comfortably. So perhaps I'm not so fearless.

I'm also at that place in my current novel where I'm worrying about my characters, whether they have depth, and how they get out of those situations that are still evolving. Write truth.

This seems difficult when I feel I really don't understand men at all, or at least do I ever know what they're thinking? What is that inner voice saying? Do men worry about things differently than women? At least it's easier to think about what kinds of jobs men held in the 1840s and what their choices were. I think I'll go post this on a fiction forum to see what others will say. May your writing go well.

Monday, April 14, 2008

#13 What Did Victorian Ladies . . .

What did Victorian ladies
take with them to
remind them of home?
What handheld bit of trivia, a lock of hair,
a photograph, a cousin’s
letter, a packet of good English tea,
did they stick into their portmanteau
as they travelled, first to Brighton, then
to Africa, down the Nile, past pyramids,
following the call of Cheops and Ramses?

Fearless they were, their spectacles mirrored
all that was not home, those
intrepid Victorian ladies, later
writing books and living in spare rooms,
shuttled from house to house, barely family,
a dotty aunt, and yet,
once they gazed on rainbows over rapids,
they followed porters down the Kinshasa and dared
to dream of absolute freedom.

#12 Tennessee Backroads

Two-lane Tennessee backroads
curve and dip through scrub pine and hickory,
past white budding dogwood, redbud,
pink and yellow late blooming azaleas,
small holdings, old barns, clusters of cows
and a single horse, a pen of pigs,
neat brick houses, then home to cousins,
a community of modular homes
perched on a hill,
vulnerable to high winds or tornados.
We hear storm warnings on the weather channel and
lie in bed, sleepless.

This little poem was written three days ago, when we were south of Nashville, visiting family.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

#11 I wish Vincent van Gogh . . .

I wish Vincent van Gogh
had been fearless,
had painted through those floating stars
that swirled in a midnight sky
over a candlelit town and cypress trees,
or that he drew every branch and every leaf
on crooked trees, colored every shade
in wheat fields so yellow that crows startled above
into an impossibly blue sky.
I wish he had never left Paris,
or could be found still sitting in a sidewalk café in Arles,
or could have known, somehow,
how much his work is loved

Saturday, April 12, 2008

#10 Tennessee Storm

We watched the storm march up the valley,
warm south winds pushing against
colder winds from the west.
Television alerts mapped where winds met
and dipped into true tornado form,
measuring in minutes
who should take cover as
anvils swirled under dark clouds and
hand-sized hailstones fell.

We stood away from the windows.
I thought how thin these trailer walls are,
how quickly the storm moves.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

#9 Elephant Song

My hand rests on your head.
My hand rests on my heart.
So we remain connected;
reflections shimmer, past, present, future.
I will always carry you with me, for we are together.
Your great eyes speak wisdom. You are here,
now, in this pool with me, dreaming, dreaming.
And then head to head, heart to heart, I hear you
singing to me all the songs of childhood, all
the songs of the forest.

Special thanks to Rebecca for posting an evocative photo of a young girl and an elephant in a pool of water as part of NaWriPoMo at Sunday Scribblings and introducing me to Gregory Colbert's amazing project, Ashes and Snow. Please check out either site to see this image.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

#8 I search for memories

I search for memories of my people,
along the Natchez Trace on a cloudy day,
dreaming past woods lush with redbud
and flowering dogwood,
winding down the parkway from the Tennessee Valley,
through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana
to the Gulf of Mexico,
past wild turkeys foraging acorns,
a herd of seven deer startling
for the treeline, a rush of
white and black tails flashing.

I walk along trails where people once lived under stars.

Mississippi River boatmen, marauders,
skinny hunters, move out to the new west,
the Missouri country and beyond,
child brides, washerwomen, saloon girls,
children lost on the desert,
young men who wanted to be cowboys,
all follow wagon trails out across the Rockies
and into the snow,
their shoes worn down by hope.

These were my people, every generation moving west,
until they fell nearly into the sea,
Hollywood starlets instead of stars.

Monday, April 07, 2008

#7 I See My Aunt

I see my aunt in your eyes, that
startling Swedish blue, sometimes ice,
always a cigarette emphasizing her words.
She studied psychology, painted dead leaves gold,
and knew so much about all of us.
Sometimes only her words
held me together.

Long before women were artists, she painted
self-portraits with staring eyes.
Hemmingway and Picasso were her heroes,
though neither of them treated women well.

She was of the generation of women
who survived World War II,
Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Hitler, and Mussolini.
She was the second daughter,
dutiful, steady, married often and not well,
yet painting those marvelous bold abstracts
well into her eighties,
each line an argument for being
I still see.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Everglades

This photo stays with me. Somehow it seems mysterious, the egret wading most peacefully into a grove of cypress trees in the northern Everglades in Florida at the end of the day, as if there were worlds of grace and harmony beyond my comprehension, as if we all could find such a place.

See more wonderful photos at Sunday Scribblings.

#6 Here above Vicksburg

Here above Vicksburg, along the Mississippi,
Union and Confederate soldiers once waited
In trenches dug low in hilly ground,
maybe watching whipperwills and fat bees,
or dark swallowtails
float by on warm spring air.

They stopped shooting each nightfall,
instead traded insults, call and response,
Johnny Reb to Yank, and laughed
as they hunkered down
over dried biscuits,
maybe a night fire to warm their bones.

Not a man among them didn’t wish
some way they were at home.

#5 Apology

April 5 comes to an end
without a poem. Today was
full of promise in the morning, then
I watched you sip beer from a coffee mug
all day long. Decades passed.
Husbands and lovers
walked by the river to watch it rise
past flood levels of 1945.
Then soup, thrice boiled, served with salt and bread,
and home so late, the darkest moon sadly waned.
Computer connections lost along the way, clean sheets
Crackled into midnight.
A star tattoo red and yellow marks your arm.
I fall asleep to dream of poems unwritten, the
words not quite carrying this day with you.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

#4 Poetry should zing . . .

Poetry should zing between
each line dance or sing what
might you do if words slid right
up or down or evenside
across a screen image-wide
a missile, melting clock, lightening struck,
spring rain smatters, a cardinal flits again
from grass to tree. All in all,
the steady oak still
holds the Mississippi fast, a turning, rolling,
muddy, willful, rain-swollen rush
of water-song.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

#3 Louisiana Backyard Bayou

Pink-edged clouds chase light as the sun sets.
Purple martins crowd the railing
around a miniature house
swaying on a pole stuck in the bayou.
An egret glides along the line
where salt bulrushes meet water, and
boat-tailed grackles
settle on green grass mats
floating near our house on stilts.
We hang our feet over the wooden slatted porch
and look and look,
as if the day will never end.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

#2 Life was simple when . . .

Life was simple when
she ate the apple the Queen brought,
fell to the floor in a swoon and was loved and missed
and brought to life with a kiss.

Life was simple when
the young men drove down dusty Southern back roads,
drank beer in convertibles,
and told wild tales about the planes
they greased up and flew, the orders cut
for someone else’s sons.

Life was simpler when
I could look into your eyes and see your dreams.
Now forty years after Viet Nam,
night terrors still come.
I read the newspapers aloud:
Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran.
I soothe with words, a kiss,
and worry about our soldiers coming home.

Tomorrow’s wars unfold in newsprint.
Swooning seems as luxurious as a prince’s kiss;
the apple promises oblivion.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

#1 New Orleans, March 2008

At first light up over the bridge,
we drive into New Orleans today:
300,000 live here in a city
that once held 600,000.
We drive past houses older than Katrina
ever thought to be. Some lean into the night,
plywood over windows, abandoned.
People haven’t painted over those
cryptic signs from the storm that mark
who lived and who did not: 1 dead in attic.

For all the days and nights after,
for all of us who watched those rooftop rescues,
young and old, people and dogs, cars afloat,
lives tossed by water and wind, and then
no more waiting for help in whatever form it came.
Instead the people, damping down terror,
ask: Where were you when. . .
and when turned into long weeks of wondering
when to return.

Now the tourists come again to the French Quarter,
to wander by lovely Garden District mansions,
to stand in awe in front of old animosities
not quite rinsed away
by rising flood or wind or changing laws.

From 1803 and the Louisiana Purchase,
from the days of the Civil War and Reconstruction,
Creole, French, Spanish and American,
the people all lived segregated in their own worlds,
a closely guarded history of slavery that Southern manners
don’t mention, yet some slaves so long ago
escaped the plantations
and left all that is not talked about when we think of slavery.
They escaped, some of them, and were taken in by Indians,
sheltered deep in the swamp.

Today, New Orleans reminds us
on a Sunday each March of that long-ago generosity
with secret clubs, elaborate costumes,
neighborhood parades, and food everywhere:
the smell filling the air of boiling crawfish,
barbequed pork chops, ribs, chicken and sausage,
any way you like it, hot or hotter,
and straight up marching band music that has us all
dancing in the streets.
Today’s Indians pass, their headdresses and
their feathers a breath of each generation,
ephemeral as our life
or a wind from the sea.

And Mardi Gras blossoms
with parades in every neighborhood,
though the government said
we’ll cut your funding if you dance in the streets.
New Orleans danced, wearing feathered masks and
throwing beads from decorated floats.

We danced, we kissed, we sang in the streets,
and so New Orleans sings today
as if there never were a Katrina.

Today, the people say, “We’re coming back” or “Come home.”
They say “Come visit” and we do,
to look again at rows of oaks twining over wide esplanades,
to sit at Café du Monde and drink café aux lait,
nibbling on beignets and listening to street musicians.

The spirit is here, blues sung out from the bones of such days,
deep sorrow still and such exuberance.
I wash my heart in this music after the storm,
walking down Frenchmen Street, past
the Spotted Cat jazz club where anyone can sit and
drink in a saxophone’s cry.
My heart, my heart remembers you still.

April Challenge!

I'm going to try . . . April is National Poetry Month and the famous napowrimo folks have set up a challenge at ReadWritePoem: Write a poem a day for 30 days. Since I've been focused on fiction these last months, very few poems have come my way. So, here's to April and challenges. Happy April Fool's Day and no jokes! This should be fun. As they say, "Chain the muse to the chair next to you"! I'll post my first poem a little later today. Gotta get to work.