Monday, December 29, 2008

Sporadic internet . . .

Just a note to say that today we turn off internet in our Vancouver apartment and so I don't know exactly when I'll be able to read all the wonderful posts from writers on Sunday Scribblings or update this blog . . . as we land in Brazil on January 1.

If you want to follow along our travels through South America for the next six months, jump over to Beth on the Road. For now, be assured the writing continues. I wish all who stop by a New Year filled with beauty, creativity, and harmony. Be well and be at peace.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I believe . . .

For every moment spent doubting, I believe in love. As Rabbi ben Ezra says, "Grow old along with me, for the best in life is yet to be . . . " That phrase has followed me throughout my life, at first a hope, then a promise, now after nearly 35 years of marriage, a commitment. I don't know how many years we will have left together, but that love that once seemed so unattainable, so out of reach, so beyond my ability to connect truly with another person, now is my center, the beginning and the end.

I'd like to believe the best of others, except those who drive like crazy people (anyone who comes too close to the car I'm driving).

I believe each person I meet has a past I may not know, but that I respect, a present I am a part of, and a future full of potential, regardless of age, gender, race, orientation, or personal beliefs.

And for underlying beliefs, the belief system I'm most comfortable with comes from the existentialists (like Sartre) who confronted the tragedies of World War II. These ideas still seem valid to me, post Iraq. Even if God does not exist, say the existentialists, we exist. We have a choice. In fact, we are doomed to choose those acts that resonate within a moral code, that respect human life -- and that respect human effort and creativity. I hope to live in ways that follow these beliefs.

This week, the Sunday Scribblings post asked us to write about what we believe. Read what others have written in a remarkable online community by going to Sunday Scribblings.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

#142 Late . . .

The rabbit knows.
Down the hole he falls,
head first. He’s late, he’s late.
Alice follows through the looking glass,
to some wild tea party
under the trees of summer.
But I’m late. It’s snowing steadily now.
The leaves are long gone.
The tea party's forgotten.
I could run madly
like the rabbit, but
snow covers the way.
Solstice promises aside,
winter lasts a long, long time.

Today the Weather Channel warns of blizzards along the Columbia Gorge through Sunday. This snow is not exactly "late" but somehow echoes in this week's Sunday Scribblings.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

#5 Red Tide

They swim together.
The fish around her,
their eyes open, her eyes closed,
trust the pull of the tide.
Fish of every color,
yellow, green and red,
follow this tide up river to the place
of beginnings,
marea creciente, rising tide.

Fish eyes know the sea and the river,
ebb and flow, seeing and not seeing,
from marea viva, spring tide,
to marea muerte, neap tide,
so many days, so many nights
of swimming into smaller and smaller
channels, still trusting the way.
Not even a siren in the sea
counts time.

NOTE: This Monday's ReadWritePoem features this beautiful drawing called "marea roja" by ladyorlando. I hadn't visited this site for a while and was surprised and then not surprised by yet another sirena.

Monday, December 15, 2008

#141 Winter Garden . . .

This winter garden
rests neatly on my palm.
Black slate covers the roof
of a gazebo, winter chrysanthemums
bloom frosted red and yellow,
Fresh snow edges bare trees,
perfectly miniature.
A tiny gravel path winds
past a clear pool just frozen.
Golden carp float
fast asleep,
all carefully balanced,
worlds within worlds.

This week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings just came to mind, the idea of a garden floating in my hand, silly, but it came to me instantly!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Rajah Quilt . . .

This morning's research introduced me to a treasure -- the Rajah Quilt, hand sewn by women prisoners as they were transported by sailing ship, the Rajah, from the Pentonville Prison in England, to Hobart, Australia on a 5-month journey in 1841. The quilt, lost for decades and recovered just 20 years ago, is shown publicly just once a year at the National Gallery of Australia.

I can imagine these 180 women aboard the Rajah, a sailing cargo ship. For the next five months, they endured crowded conditions, were buffeted by storms, and yet they created this quilt. Each had been given a personal bag filled with sewing materials and two pounds of cut fabric scraps, granted by the Quaker group, the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners, so the women would find "industrious work" during the voyage. They sailed into the unknown, from one prison to another.

The quilt was presented to Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the governor of Tasmania (Australia), John Franklin, the famed Artic explorer, later lost in his quest to find the Northwest Passage (from Greenland).

I'm seeing a swirl of links to my novel-in-progress set in the Orkneys, Scotland, in the 1840s. Captain Ferguson of the Rajah took shelter from a storm in Stromness. He later married Kezia Heyter, the young woman sent by Elizabeth Fry to accompany the female prisoners. Some articles say Heyter was a matron; some say she was simply a passenger. I've thought of Elizabeth Fry as well, for she was a fearsome reformer, though she died in 1845. Yet her relationship to Kezia as mentor is an interesting one.

I'm still struggling to understand marriages in the upper class; no better model could be had than that of Lady Jane Franklin to John Franklin, both explorers, both independent. She wrote often to Elizabeth Fry, yet there is tension among historians as to her actual role in helping the female prisoners. But the good materials are all in the collections of the National Library of Australia. No time to order interlibrary loan. Sigh. So now, enough research! Back to the writing.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

140 Tradition . . .

This week's Sunday Scribblings' prompt asks us to write about tradition.

When I was 15, my grandmother sewed a quilt for each grandchild, hand piecing the tops despite her arthritic hands. Mine was vividly colored, Grandmother’s Flower Garden. I loved that quilt.

I have read of quilts made to mark the way along the Underground Railway, but this may be a combination of memory and myth. Log Cabin, Bear’s Paw, Ocean Waves, to me, these names spoke of our history. I could imagine women quilting in cabins across the plains and in the Pacific Northwest; some quilts evoke the home country left behind (Irish Chain, Dresden Plate), or mark the poignant passing of one generation to the next (Wedding Ring, Grandmother’s Flower Garden), or inspired by the Bible (Jacob’s Ladder, Rose of Sharon).

Everywhere we travel, I look for quilts. They speak to me of similar dreams and love of color, history, and family. In Egypt, elaborate quilts are still made in an open air market that once were traded along the Silk Route. African warriors wore Fulani stars quilted into their cloth armor for protection. From Japan, we see quilt patterns with dragonflies, fans, lanterns, kimonos, and Torii gates. From Alaska, quilt designs highlight the wilderness with bears, eagles, mountains, trout and the forest. And in museums I see quilting and appliqué that women have created for thousands of years to embellish their clothing, blankets, and wall hangings.


I’ve often been asked why I quilt.
Sometimes my hands hurt
from cutting fabric
as the scissors slice through bright colors.
Why would any one dedicate
so many months to make something
that can be so easily bought?

I first began to quilt
in memory of my grandmother;
her stitches held together my family in ways
I couldn’t foresee. And when I left home,
I took her quilt with me.

Now I appliqué the edges,
turn the fabric again and again
into a pattern, inventing as I go,
the curved edges turning
into flowers light and vivid.

I think about the person I love as I stitch,
the person who will one day lie beneath this cover,
sometimes dreaming, sometimes weeping,
perhaps comforted by this quilt
that I have made.

When I am no longer here,
for that day comes,
perhaps who made the quilt
is not so important.
This quilt may comfort a child or two at nap time
or be put on the back seat of a car for the dogs.
My hands are content as I remember
my grandmother.

I’m just finishing the last bit of binding on this flower quilt for my cousin, adapted from patterns in Joyce M. Schlotzhauer, The Curved Two Patch System. You can click on the image to see the quilt more clearly.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Proud Bookworm . . .

I stopped by Anthony North's blog to read this week's Sunday Scribblings to find this Proud Bookworm Award and challenge:

THE CHALLENGE: Pass this on to five other bloggers, and tell them to open the nearest book to page 46. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The closest book, not the coolest, or the one you think will sound the best. THE CLOSEST.

I looked longingly over at my nearby bookcase and crate of books, but there on the top of my printer, the closest book just in from lay. I opened Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint to page 46 to find only these two concluding sentences:

“But the stories that astonish us, the characters that live forever in our memories – those are the result of rich imagination, perceptive observations, rigorous interrogation, and careful decision-making.

When it comes to storytelling, invention is the mother of astonishment delight and truth.”

Ah, that was reward in itself. I hereby invite you to take on this challenge as well as these kind visitors (if you like): Granny Smith, Anno, Paisley, Rambler, and Sunshine.
Your prize? This retro graphic with thanks!

Monday, December 01, 2008

#139 A Winter Tale

This week's Sunday Scribblings asks us to write a winter tale. Here is a beginning . . .

Once upon a time and very far away, near a scattering of islands in the southernmost sea, lived a pod of young mermaids. They sang songs, played surfing games in the sea, and chased fish to eat. Each day was endless. At night, they floated to sleep under the light of the moon.

As each mermaid became a certain age, she consulted the Book of Mermaids about her quest. One by one, the mermaids disappeared until only two were left, Dariella and Marel, the youngest mermaid. Marel wanted to leave their island home together, but Dariella insisted on going first. “This is the way of our people,” she said. “I must go on my quest alone.”

The next morning, before the sun came up, Dariella swam north, leaving Marel behind. “If I do not return, you know what to do.”

Day after day passed. Marel waited, thinking perhaps today would be the day that Dariella would return, flashing through the surf. Each morning, Marel searched the waves, looking for her sister. The palm trees and the sandy beaches were unchanged. Dariella did not return.

Marel found the Book of Mermaids hidden in a cave on the north edge of the island. She opened its silver leaves edged with seaweed, and learned she was to swim out into the deep sea, survive a storm, and find her destiny. She closed the book and hid it under the rocks.

On the last morning, Marel swam in ever larger circles around the island, hoping to find some hint in the deep green sea of what direction she was to travel. Suddenly, a storm blew up, and she could no longer see the island for the mountains of waves that thundered out of the north.

Marel was tossed up on the white breakers and down into the deepest troughs. She flailed against the dark waters, and even though she was a mermaid, she feared she would drown. As suddenly as the waves came out of the north, so they returned, carrying Marel with them in a torrent of black waves. With each moment, Marel became colder and colder until she was as cold as the ice that surrounded her.

She swam with the waves, sometimes floating, until she came to a curious island far to the north that was made of ice, where a majestic creature sat on a throne of silver, four large polar bears protecting the woman who sat there. A wave pushed her onto the island.

“Ah,” said the creature, “the smallest and youngest mermaid. I see the Book of Mermaids has called you here. You have come to join them, the very last of your kind.” She waved her hand, and Marel could see all of her sisters floating below her, frozen blue in the ice. One of the polar bears looked at her with great black eyes and growled.

“What would you wish me to do, oh majestic one, to meet my quest before I remain here?” For Marel knew that no one, not even the Queen of the North, could refuse her a quest.

The queen sat still and thought long. She roused herself from time to time to pet one of her polar bears, causing a shimmer of ice to fly out from her long dark cloak. Finally she said, “You must bring me proof you have caused a sailing ship to founder. If you do this, you may remain free.”

“What about my sisters?”

The queen of ice lifted her head and laughed, a sharp sound that cut the air like glass. “Go. I will think on your request and give my answer when you return. Mayhap you will find a pretty for my bears.” She laughed again.

Marel slipped into the icy water and began her long swim straight to the southern coast, where great craggy mountains rose from the ocean. Perhaps she would find a sailing ship there. And if she did not, she would see her sisters’ blue faces floating forever in her dreams.

. . . to be continued

Saturday, November 22, 2008

#138 Grateful . . .

I’m grateful for my cot.
It’s everything I’m not
portable, comfortable, and shiny.
I’ll disassemble it in just a month; I must
take all my courage. I’ll thrust
it into storage, where it shall not
travel south by plane like me,
where once again, I’ll be free
and on the road.

Instead I’ll fall limitless into summer – yahoo!
Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru,
they all beckon me south,
filling my eyes, ears and mouth
with delicacies and dreams unexpected.
I only ask what harm,
with my writer’s notebook under my arm,
could I come to – so unprotected,
as I embark on a low-key, six-month travel,
what mysteries soon to unravel?

A teacher once told a student never to write a poem that rhymes. I say, “Why not?” Although I’m grateful for family and friends, for each day that brings sunshine, libraries, art, and writing into my life, and my husband most of all, even if he adores football, we’re getting ready to travel to South America for six months. We leave December 31st, so this poem came this morning as a kind of preparation, just in time to be grateful again to the wonderful community of writers on Sunday Scribblings!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

#137 Stranger . . .

What could be stranger than
walking on two legs, bisected
by knees that bend only backwards,
or feet adorned with just five toes,
and hands with four fingers and
only one opposable thumb?

What could be stranger than
breathing air instead of water, or eyelids
that blink up and down?
What could be stranger than speaking words,
having a birth day, or eating fish but not the bones?
What could be stranger than putting on a watch
as if we could measure time?

Read other writings in response to this week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings, stranger.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Unguarded Utterance . . .

Just a note to say my poem "History Lesson" was listed on "A Dozen Poems this November," chosen by S. L. Corsua and highlighted on her poetry blog today, Unguarded Utterance. That's a first! Thank you, S. L. Corsua.

The other eleven poems listed made for interesting reading, if you are so inclined.

On writing query letters . . .

Each day that I write, I've been editing and revising my historical novel, Standing Stones. Two resources have been very helpful -- the generosity and insights of writers participating in the Internet Writing Workshop and Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover. Today, the Willamette Writer's newsletter highlighted a You-Tube presentation by Elizabeth Lyon, my editing heroine, speaking on query letters (just 8 minutes long).

I've heard other writers say that their characters come alive, hold conversations, and otherwise pester the writer to tell "their" story. I always thought this was silly, but in this second year of writing, my characters have begun to infiltrate my dreams. I awake with whole scenes that need to be integrated here or there or new insights into my characters that really do tell me what's next or explain what happened. Some days are slow. I feel inept as a writer. But then, a bit of research opens up new understanding or confirms what I thought I knew. And so I persevere. Perhaps one day I will actually finish this book and be at the stage to write that query letter. For now, I just write.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

#135 Scandalous . . .

This week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings is Scandalous. Today is Election Day. I don't want scandal. I'm not sure I even want long lines at the polls. I'm still remembering the scandal of the Bush/Gore election decided by too few votes and administrative fiat in Florida. I'm hoping it doesn't come down to that, again. The real scandal for me is in not trusting the process. So today begins far too early, not even a thread of poetry, but feelings of hope and a sense of dread.

Yes, I've voted. Yes, I live in one of those states that my sister mistrusts, for we vote by mail. "How do you know where your ballot goes," she asked. She works at a big city hospital where nursing staff will take turns covering each other so they can vote.

"It's all too complicated," my cousin said. "We should just get rid of the electoral college." She lives in a town of 26,000. She told me they have one polling station. Checks and balances.

Both of them will stand in line today, for as long as it takes. Only one of them is voting for the candidate I support. That's not the scandal. That remains with commentators who whip up our feelings with loud voices. Or maybe scandal remains with those funny voting machines that misrecord our votes (I actually experienced this long ago). I still hope to celebrate this day. Change is needed. Not scandal.

Friday, October 24, 2008

#134 Awesome Sunday Scribblings

This week Sunday Scribblings asks us to brag. Here's the prompt: "What's awesome about you? You can pick one awesome thing, or list as many as you can. Don't be shy."

I can’t find a poem in this week’s musing. I’m finding it far easier to write about anything but myself. I like that I am a survivor. Sometimes I call myself Chicken Little and startle at the slightest noise, and yet, I know that I am strong, feisty, sometimes impatient, sometimes creative, always hard working. I can function at once in the morning, without coffee. I’m not intimidated by libraries or computers. I need very little: a library card, my laptop, my passport, five changes of clothing in a suitcase, and my dear traveling companion. Family and friends are a given.

I love my love of nature. Here, for now, Mt. Hood floats above the Columbia River, weathering this afternoon’s pink clouds, while trees along the foothills change from green to glowing yellow. Underneath a mostly mild and quiet exterior, I submerge myself in writing, a massive three-year project, storytelling, re-seeing history through shifting points of view. A glance and I’m no longer here; I’m in a different century.

I feel larger than life. I speak my own mind. If I wanted to, I could dye my gray hair to mermaid colors or bake bread. I’m thankful I do not have to say, “Why is this happening to me?” Yet, I like to think I’m not remarkable or awesome. I worry about the world, yet I still have hope in the future. I still have dreams.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

#132 What if I lived in medieval Sweden?

This week’s prompt from Sunday Scribblings asks us to imagine what if we had to live at a different time in history. I’ve always been drawn to medieval Sweden because my grandmother’s people can trace their family back to the 1600s, but I’ve never seen myself as a lady in a castle. Even if time travel were possible, the odds are against it, and I’d most likely find myself living in the lower classes. So despite today’s writing, I’m really happy to be in the 21st century, with my laptop and internet, sewing machine for quilting, and library cards for as many books as I could ever wish for.

Our castle is very cold, despite its fireplaces belching smoke. Even the immense and colorful tapestries of spring on the wall don’t help stop the cold air bristling down the corridors and hallways while furious winds swirl outside. I’m working in the kitchen. My backside is warm, but my hands are cold and so are my bare feet. I know I’ll have to carry the trays upstairs again, and the house thralls will be pinching me if I don’t go fast enough. I don’t like the dark spaces. Too many spiders.

Marta saw a rat the other day, sitting on top of a bag of oatmeal like he owned it, daring her to smack him. At least they let us sleep in the kitchen, Marta and me, beside the fireplace, when all the pots have been scoured with sand and the flagstones swept.

Yesternight strangers came, and our housecarls put on their padded armour and carried their battle-axes into dinner. I didn’t like stepping over their war gear and slipping on the bits of meat they’d thrown to the dogs. Better they’d thrown meat to me, though I’d snuck a bite or two as I carried heavy trays through the wide door and entered into the great room, where our jarl and his lady sat on a dias above a long trestle table. The men shouted at each other and drank deep from silver horns tied at their waists after pledging honor to our jarl.

I nearly dropped the tray more than once, as they jabbed their knives into the roast venison on my tray, tearing it away, the smell of their sweat mingling with the smell of sweet venison. Two strangers tried to grab me, but I got away. Marta was not so lucky; I’ll sleep alone tonight. I suppose I hate the cold most. I’ve heard it’s warmer south of Jutland.

Friday, October 03, 2008

#131 Forbidden

I wake with lines of poetry thrumming in my head, each off in different directions. What to write about this week that’s forbidden, the prompt from Sunday Scribblings. I thought of sex, but that’s too private to write about, the draw of what is forbidden adding to what we wish, to be loved, first kiss, first touching, first sex.

Then I remembered my stepfather’s steel-tipped boots. He worked in a steel mill, and was laid off. Beer drinking, a bear of a man, frustrated once too often by my Hollywood mother, he would explode into violence. His rage was forbidden. And me, I left that place, pretending I didn’t belong. Every day at school, I passed for one of them, the middle class, those so polite people who looked as if they never got dirty, who didn’t move to a different school every year, who didn’t wear second-hand clothes. How shocked I was to hear them swear, to finally learn that wife beating was as common there as anywhere else.

And so I lost myself in libraries, worked my way through school to be in that place where books were valued. I found that some people did create harmony and beauty, not so wild a dream, and I finally fell truly in love. Then my child was born, and all that I wanted for me, I wanted for her. The years passed. My daughter grew up a musician and today is everything I could not be, yet herself. Perhaps it was forbidden to dream this life I now lead, but I do not think so.


From the first bite of the apple, even so
Eve knew more than we give her credit,
that line separating innocence from experience,
once crossed,
disappears. And yet, I want to know
when she first saw the apple,
was she curious
as she reached out and tasted?
Was it because of Snake hissing words
that promised godhood?

Sometimes we must say no
to ourselves first and to others.
Even the smallest steps take us to a different place,
out the gates and into the world.

Lillith knew this as well. She chose the blood
of babies and yet flies absolutely free,
seductive and dreaded in some evil fantasy.
The rest of us know that choice remains:
Do we honor Eve or Lillith?
Or is there something more?
We make our own reality as we go,
renouncing what is forbidden.

Read what others have written on this week's theme at Sunday Scribblings.

Friday, September 19, 2008

#129 Invitation . . .

A few leaves now turn
yellow and brown, fall begins
with invitation, the year is ending.
I walk along a line of scrub oaks,
their limbs above me
a dome of airiness I cannot understand,
a language I haven’t learned.
Their limbs reach up to touch the sky
as if all is connected, all hums with change,
beginnings and endings coil together,
I feel lighter as if
I could turn and curl into tomorrow,
at one with leaves scattering in the wind,
the smell of rain just out of reach.

Return to Sunday Scribblings for more writings on the theme of INVITATION . . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Update on writing.

Not sure how to begin. Not sure how to continue. The first draft of Standing Stones is done (300 pages singlespaced), and now revision begins. I've done the first read through, have lots of notes, and have written a synopsis of the five sections that make up this story. Maybe three people will be test readers for me. Maybe. This feels like such an unknown. I only know that parts made me laugh and parts made me cry, so I will persevere.

Otherwise, the internet is an absolutely terrific resource: photos, maps, odd bits of historical info, and, of course, being able to research the library before I go. We already have library cards to the rather small library here in Vancouver and have crossed the river where the downtown Portland Library has granted us cards as well (a reciprocal arrangement with Clark County). I'm thinking of starting my bibliography online in case others are interested in 19th Century Scotland.

The internet does have its dark side, even for me. I've now found out about three deaths of people once very close to me via the internet, not the least being my sister, this week.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

History Lesson

I am two years old when the bomb is dropped
on Hiroshima, three days later on Nagasaki.
105,000 Japanese civilians die.
Buildings pop and flame
like white flowers splintered in a hot wind.
People flee to a nearby canal.
Coats catch fire as they run.
They cannot see
for the rain of ash.
Someone’s watch is stepped on,
forever frozen in my memory.

After the war, faces without lips
Turn to the camera
so we can see
what has been wrought.

In my dreams I watch again the jagged film:
two men smile for the camera,
sitting in the cockpit of a silver plane,
and the bomb falls down through clouds
to become a ball of fire.

It is August 1949.
The Russians test their first atomic bomb.
I am in first grade. We bow our heads and
put our hands behind our necks to protect them.
I do not believe that rolling into a gutter
will save me from the billowing mushroom cloud.

I am seventeen. Two marines visit
my high school English class.
They point to a map taped on the blackboard.
They say you do not know what is coming,
Vietnam, 1961.

Today, September 11, 2008,I remember two planes
crashing into twin towers, and a third plane
head first in a Pennsylvania field.

So many deaths. So many memorials.
So many wars I do not understand.

This poem came from this last week of thinking about September 11, world terrorism. I was off line this last week making a move to Vancouver in Washington, and now am living in this lovely apartment overlooking a small garden, just off Highway 205 and the bridge over the Columbia River with Mt. Hood floating in a brilliant blue sky.

#128 Last Night

Last night I learned my sister died
somewhere in Dallas, June, 2001.
They say she was living in a crack house.
A County Coroner’s report online
listed no kin to claim her body.
I sip my coffee and wonder
exactly how long a good life lasts.

Did it end when she was fifteen
glowing in yellow chiffon?
Ah, I was jealous, a year older, tall
and invisible in my borrowed prom dress.

Maybe it ended when
she left home at sixteen,
got married, got divorced,
two babies later somehow got to Hollywood,
worked as a walk-on, LA sparkly,
visited the Tate mansion one week before
Charlie Manson did, drove to San Francisco
with her new boyfriend and his green convertible.
I worked at a bank, but I’d never seen
so much money. Then the telephone calls came.
Can you take the kids?
Just for a while?
And I did
until she came screaming back:
I’m their mother, not you.
She was living on a commune with a rock star,
and so it went. Did I say she was beautiful?

The last time I saw her, she was standing
on a corner mid-Wilshire Los Angeles,
screaming at me, her face twisted up
with I don’t know what needs.
I only know that
I no longer had time for my sister,
not even for a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Once we three – maiden, mother, crone –
danced around Athena's gift, olive trees
all along the Mediterranean. Our eyes glowing,
arms linked each to each,
our feet traced patterns in the dust;
the world followed.

Mothers prayed to us in their ninth month;
they pinched offerings from loaves of baking bread,
always a tenth consigned to fire,
and at death,
they offered up their souls.

Now we body surf through storms at sea,
stirring cold and warm currents in every direction,
weaving the fates of the world with our songs.
At night, chaos. Our beards become white caps.
By day, those who see us cry: Mermaid, mermaid.

Somehow Botticelli's painting came to mind of the three graces or fates. Moirae is another name for these three goddesses, much celebrated in mythology, poetry, and paintings. See Botticelli's Primavera.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

#126 Somewhere . . .

So I’ll go no more a-roving, across the summer lake . . .
--Lord Byron

I have slept in so many hotel rooms, I’ve lost count.
The best were in Turkey, no central heat,
the windows frosted in winter,
Victorian charm and many blankets fighting
with the cold, the white armoir delicately
painted with blue flowers, the street below narrow,
perfect for walking to market.

I remember those breakfasts,
every morning the same: impossibly
fresh little loaves of French bread,
with butter in a round white cup and marmalade,
two steaming boiled eggs,
two slabs of a pungent white cheese,
shrunken rank little olives served Greek style,
and cup after cup of a hot dark tea.

Days Inn suffers in contrast,
two chairs next to a round table,
no light for reading, a refrigerator that hums
through the night, voices echoing down the halls.
In the morning, watery orange juice,
anonymous oat flakes, and iced milk.
The sign proclaims continental style,
but I remember those olives.

Outside this window, I see a row of maples,
their leaves edged with the first
red blush of winter, and I am far from home.

Check out Sunday Scribblings for more reflections on this week's prompt: somewhere.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday morning.

Today begins the new week. This week we're back on the road, in the midst of moving to Vancouver, Washington, and I'll be taking down one of the most beautiful offices I've ever worked in. Each morning about 6 am, I sit here, sometimes with a cup of ginger tea, and look out over a forest of scrub brush pines, the sun sometimes coloring a few clouds pink. Within an hour, the color is done, the sky a flat blue, but I don't notice. I'm writing. The $20 printer I got from a garage sale two months ago works just fine. My bright blue plastic packing crates turned on their sides function beautifully as a temporary bookcase. And I have my desk. One of those really big fold up office tables. Ah, spread out and work!

I don't know exactly where my next office will be. We haven't seen the apartment yet. Most likely I'll have a nook somewhere. This ambiguity of space comes at a time when I'm really finished with the first draft. I should be celebrating, but I know what is ahead. The same ambiguity of space, only internal. The story is on paper. I love these characters, but have I done them justice? Do I speak for them their innermost thoughts and hopes? Have I captured their experiences in a time not my own? Will I have the tenacity and vision to edit? and for how long?

I'd rather the story was rolling forward, but everything I've read and heard suggests this part, this revision part, is as important as any drafting that goes before. So, I'll begin. With a new office and a different kind of progress. Meanwhile, writing each week for Sunday Scribblings gives me a kind of writing community that leavens out this other work. And when do I start sending the book out? I only know not yet.

Friday, August 22, 2008

#125 Sunday Scribblings

"Love Story: You said, I said"

You opened the door to my knock,
your smile so wide, I could see all your teeth.
Later, you told me you peeked through the door
and saw trouble coming.
I was trouble.

You said I’m not the marrying kind,
so don’t get ideas. I didn’t.

You said, “Watch A Thousand Clowns with me.”
I curled up next to you
and never went home.

Your best friend said, “You might as well marry her.
You don’t talk about anything else.”
You said, “There are certain tax advantages
to getting married.” I said no.
You said, “I’m moving out.”
I said yes.

You hummed Beethoven’s Ode to Joy off-key
when our newborn daughter was put in your arms.
I thought it was a miracle:
Your singing, her birth,
everywhere we’ve lived, a miracle.
Three and a half decades later,
your snoring next to me, solace.

This week, the Sunday Scribblings prompt: "How did you meet your significant other, your best friend, your dog, your nemesis? On the flip side of that, are there any people in your life you have lost touch with who you wonder about? Jump to Sunday Scribblings to read more . . .

Sunday, August 17, 2008

#123 Sunday Scribblings

Observations. I only have this. When the writing goes well, all else goes well. Each day of writing brings struggle, but when my characters all move, when the tiniest detail brings a scene to life, when I cry or laugh along with my characters, when I know with the deepest part of me that this story has value, then all else goes well.

And yet, how I shiver with the slightest criticism. I wonder if all writers suffer this way with doubt and indecision. On those days, I'm lucky to get over 100 words done, my characters seem like cardboard, and I wonder again and again where the story is going. Yes, I have a synopsis (not updated yet). Yes, I have back stories. Yes, I know this story as if it happened to me, even though it's set in mid-19th Century.

On those bad days, I settle within and try to listen for the threads of the story. Time runs out. I study writing techniques and try to apply them. I read research, and for the highlight of the day, take a walk with my husband. And all is well. The sun comes up in the morning, and suddenly, the story flickers to life, and I'm off again.

But even the lightest criticism nearly stops me every time. I'm just about ready to start posting some parts of my draft online for feedback, and I wish I didn't dread it. And yet, I want to look into the mirror. I want to know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Laptop skills . . . or so they say

I'm getting ready to write this morning, the sun is shining, my computer is finally warmed up and working fine after 2 hours last night of fretting over online connections and failed passwords and holding the cell phone far too close to the laptop while talking to Comcast.

But all is well. I fixed it!!!! Myself!!!! With a system restore in the safe mode. I hardly know what that means but I had to do something after I'd been told it was my laptop and not the internet connection. I'm sure the internet gods had something to do with it as well as the nice people from Comcast. Now to tackle the infinitely different challenge of writing a scene without dialogue, a task laid down by the writing gurus at NOVEL-L. How can any writer work in a safe mode?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Where did you find your gifts?

This week I found a lovely dark star material for the back of my mermaid quilt and serendipitiously found a panel of Laurel Burch fabric on a remnant table. Laurel Burch has long been a favorite designer of mine for her gorgeously vivid colors and imaginative designs. Imagine my delight when I found her mermaid patterns all across the country in quilting and fabric stores two years ago. Today, few fabrics stores carry her line, giving conflicting stories about when they will carry her fabrics again. I went online to find her site and learned of her death, far too young of an osteoporosis-related illness.

Burch painted her vivid designs first; others translated them to fabric. Her book, Legends: 9 Quilts Inspired by the Earth, Sea and Sky, is filled with her imaginative paintings and patterns, each challenging the artist within the reader. If I could, I would ask her:

Where did you find your gifts?
When were you drawn to the sea,
the swirling sea filled with
mermaids, sea horses and
those giant fishes,
orange and red and blue?

When did they come to you,
in some mysterious watery night
filled by the light of a floating purple moon?
Or did you look within to find
a cosmic earth mother,
a goddess muse who led you to paint
every flower, bird, fish and creature of the sea
in those healing colors
that shout affirmation,
celebration, and love?

I only know as I trace each line,
your gifts humble me.
Your mermaids gaze from my quilt
a testament to art,
and when I sleep,
I dream of your purple moon.

Image from Laurel Burch's site at:

Saturday, August 02, 2008

If I had to . . .

If I had to,
I could put my hand
through melted glass
like Alice, and go where
roses grow white
and are painted red
as the Queen shrieks
in the garden. Fearful of
my own head, I would
paint as fast as any
artist could
until the Queen is silent.

f I had to, I could
forget about who is
in the White House, just who
invoked presidential powers
to send in anonymous thousands,
so many to die.

Like an escape artist, I read
the paper fitfully,
hoping not to see
those numbers,
over 4,000 dead,
over five years of war.

If I had to, I could
walk countless miles,
forego imported bananas,
wear another sweater in winter,
turn the lights off
one by one,
think about polar bears
on melting ice floes.
I could stop
driving my car, if I had to.

A Sunday Scribbling prompt: If I had to . . .

Friday, August 01, 2008

Willamette Writers Conference

I'm here. It's better than anything I hoped for. Writers everywhere. And agents. And excellent workshops. The only drawback: I left my power cord to the laptop back home, so no more updates until Monday, at least.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Inspiring writers . . .

I'm just finishing up reading Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace and like so many things about her writing style: underlying themes that challenge the reader, depth of character development and relationships between the characters, and vivid country settings in Italy. So I went to her website to find she's just published a new book, Dreamers of the Day (an excuse to go back to the library before my books are truly overdue), and she has also posted advice to writers.

OK, so writing is supposed to be a lonely occupation. I know if the writing doesn't go as well as I wish, I doubt and delay and pretty much feel inadequate for a day or two.

I read somewhere that even with severe writer's block (which I don't quite believe in), that the best strategy is to simply write. Even if you don't like what you're writing. Just write. Then check back the next day. A writer's guru from Writer's Digest Forum says you'll be surprised to find yesterday's writing is fine. You can always return for revision later. But the key is you don't require inspiration.

Mary Doria Russell gives a helpful list of tips in her Note to Writers. Among these, two for me stand out (not the least being her generous and open tone):

--Fall in love with your characters. Make them laugh and cry. They'll tell you what they want to do.
--Don't rely on writer's groups. Russell says that it's enough to read her own "crappy drafts." (This in itself is reassuring for every rough draft seems crappy at some point.) She continues: Search out test readers. Tell them to look for what's broken. They will help you diagnose editing areas, but only you will know exactly how to "fix" the story.

Allen told me last night that writing a novel was a long and solitary occupation. Writing is very hard work. I don't want to settle for "The novel is finished. Hooray!" I see about another year and maybe two years of editing before Standing Stones will be the best story I can write.

But every day remains a challenge. So I'm going off to my first creative writing conference and will hope for useful information, knowing that whatever I learn, I still will remain committed to this process. And it doesn't matter if others like my stuff or don't like my stuff. I write.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Each evening, I fix hot tea
and sit at this window.
I see pine trees in shadow against a pink sky,
a line of young aspen tremble in evening wind,
and there, a line of blue mountains fades
into gray clouds low on the horizon.

Somehow I lost you between Wednesday and Friday;
only bare lines on photographs remain.
What solace does memory bring?
I cannot remember the names
of the flowers that bloom.
I only remember you.

Note: Click on this link for more readings on this week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings writers. I was surprised by this prompt, somehow connecting it in my other blog to quilting and Obama and then, after a long walk, to loss.

Solace . .

Hop over to my other blog for some comments on this week's prompt on SOLACE from Sunday Scribblings. I may yet post a poem but . . . not yet!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In the Black Hills . . .

In the Black Hills near Devil’s Tower,
I climb down a mountain trail,
ignoring a raven
who brushes across my path
three times.

A prayer bundle bag hangs from a pine tree.
I circle it reverentially and leave quietly.
A cloud of yellow butterflies
swirls ahead of me
on the trail.

This week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings is one word: ghost. I started by writing "I have never seen a ghost." Then this poem found me, and I remembered this day's hike in the heat of a summer pine forest.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Historical Inverness

Today I'm visiting Inverness, virtually that is, and found this incredible picture of the seacoast along northern Scotland. These are the famous Duncansby Stacks, so reminiscent of the standing stones left throughout the islands by neolithic peoples. Fishermen and passing ships would have seen these sandstone stacks; the whole coast is rugged, storm swept with treacherous tides. Mac, one of the characters in my book, is traveling down from Kirkwall in Orkney to Inverness and would have passed these stacks, just south of the Pentland Firth.

Dunscansby Stacks (source: Wikipedia)

I also read about the Mercat Cross in Inverness. Right in the heart of town, the Mercat Cross marks the gathering place of the market, where merchants and traders gathered, announcements were read, and sometimes public hangings or other punishments were carried out. Today, a modern sculpture topped by a unicorn and falcons honors this tradition, but then, the Mercat Cross was at the center of town, to help the stranger find his or her way.

Near the base of the Mercat Cross in Inverness, so the story goes, washerwomen hiking up from the River Ness would rest their tubs of laundry on a large stone which came to be called the clach-na-cuddaiin, or Stone of Tubs. Storytellers say as long as that stone remains in Inverness, that city will prosper.

Friday, July 04, 2008

I can imagine Frida Khalo . . .

I can imagine Frida Khalo
at the 7-11, at 8:30 pm,
before the stars are fully out,
just standing there, checking out
cold rows of Dos Equis in the cooler or the
blistered pizza barely warm on a summer night,
clicking her red fingernails on a torn LOTTO ticket.

She would come into that space,
trailing incense,
earrings touching her shoulders,
jasmine flowers in her hair,
her swirling long skirts covering a limp,
her fingers marked with red
and green and yellow oil paint,
her wide red lips
and dark eyebrows marking her dangerous,
seditious, revolutionary. Her sorrows
fall away in jolting lines of color.

I know this:

I would stand silent behind her.
I would not give away her phone number.
I would hide her canvases.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Writing Conferences?

This post originally listed possible writing conferences to attend. I've taken the plunge and am going to the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland at the beginning of August. Looks like three days of intensive workshops and speakers, and an opportunity to make a pitch (more of that later).

Here are some other writing conferences/workshops in Washington and Oregon to check out (thanks to suggestions from friends in Oregon):

Oregon. Try writer talks in Portland's Sellwood district through the Oregon Writer's Colony. Update June 24, I registered for the Others to check out:
--Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop, (Portland, OR)
--Silverton Poetry Festival, (Silverton, OR)

Washington. What about the Pacific Northwest Writers' Conference, this year in Seattle, July 17-20. Their website shows an emphasis on biographies this year. Others to check out:
--The Whidby Island Writers' Conference is held in the spring.
--Port Townsend Writer's Conference, (already full).
--Skagit River Poetry Festival, (La Conner, WA) -- great intimate festival and workshops
--Get Lit!,(Spokane, WA) -- more a reading series than a workshop/conference, but lots of fun

Writing update.

I haven't been writing poetry lately as we've been switching from the east coast to the west coast, the last three days of driving averaging 500-600 miles per day. We skirted part of one major thunderstorm, though. I don't understand how people can live in a region that brings that level of uncertainty. Give me the Pacific Northwest. I have missed these mountains! But the writing has gone fairly well. I'm now at nearly 70,000 on the novel and although that was my original goal (seemingly unattainable), I'm guessing the project (just telling the story) is about 80% finished. But progress in spite of all is still unfolding.

Now we move today into our new apartment, one place, no moving around for two months. My office is to dream of. The apartment is second floor, and my office, a small alcove off the living room, has windows facing downtown Spokane. The view makes me feel I'm floating in trees, great pines surround the house, and we're on the second floor. I'm optimistic and can't wait to continue . . .

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The longest night

Through the longest night,
time stood still,
measured by my own body.
Then you came
with infant dimples, no hair,
and knowing hazel eyes.
Every morning into night has since
been shaped by you,
girl-child to girl-woman to woman,
connecting joy to joy.

The most memorable night of my life lasted 63 hours and brought my daughter. I remember every detail of her birth. Time seemed to stand still, outside of my experience. In some ways, it seems unfair to connect birth to the concept of night, for the whole experience began at night but whether it was night or day, I could not tell. The birth itself was so memorable. No watch would be useful, for how night passed into day was measured by my own body.

Friday, May 30, 2008

#10 Ultrasound

These curves of mine I see
now as ocean waves of sound, whorls
of waves circling, layered, geometric,
as much a part of me as wrist or foot,
my breasts reduced to photographs, impaled
black on white wall. We view tissue
where curves once tilted and seduced.
Once, just once, I swam free
through salty ocean waters, the waves
a memory across sheet after sheet
of diagrams, a strange continuous reality
that has nothing to do with my body.
I stare in hope and dismay
at what technology reveals.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

#9 Quitting

It’s not so much about quitting
as letting go. I’m remembering
a photograph of Helen Keller,
taken a few days before her death,
her eyes turned inward, as if she were
seeing something we only wonder at,
that photograph glimpsed once and never
forgotten, a hint at journeys not yet taken,
where all that is familiar falls away;
even the closest loved one cannot come with you,
and the night holds no terror.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

#8 Heartsore

Be still, heart.
I know you beat for others yet
this heart is mine also, redness tinking through
my veins. Don’t stop just now, or press in
tighter and tighter, but keep pumping
for yesterday we saw an eastern blue jay,
its crested head
still for a moment,
matched only by two cardinals chattering
and circling around each other, soaring
from porch to porch
on this street of row homes.

This week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings on the words "soar/sore" led me to write a poem about living with family again. We're visiting for a month here in Philadelphia, and this tiny house will have eight relatives over the next two weeks. I'm noticing how many meals need to be cooked, how many dishes need to be washed, and how many dearly loved relatives revert to those days when older parents did all. We'll leave June 3 but this poem (late, late, late) helped me create a little distance, even as I dive in.

Monday, May 12, 2008

#7 Who are you?

I see you, stranger with the
cell phone, eyes somewhere else,
perhaps talking with a lover and driving,
the car in front of you moving too slowly, or
in the supermarket, pushing your cart
and talking, talking in that loud intimate tone
that excludes and informs, as you crash
into my grocery cart, eyes blank with surprise:
Who are you?

I see you, dear friend, talking to
anyone at all when they call,
while I wait and pretend I’m floating far away
from this cell phone zone as we barrel along,
a fixed 80 miles an hour on the freeway.

How quickly the cell phone,
like my laptop, becomes an excuse
for not talking at all.

This week’s Sunday Scribblings prompt is the telephone. I remember the sensuous of dialing a telephone number, just four digits, pulling the heavy circle down and letting it ratchet back, sending its signal down through the line. When they added three numbers and dropped the letters from our phone number, we said no one could possibly remember seven digits, let alone ten digits that included the area code. And then I was a teenager with the phone tight against my ear, laying on the floor while babysitting. I met my first boyfriend in a two hour marathon on a black manual dial phone. I learned of my mother’s death by phone. I then called my sister for a conversation filled with long distance silence. Today I call my aunt who suffers from memory lapses. I don’t think she can remember her phone number at all, but she remembers my voice, though a continent separates us. And I’m a fan of Skype, an internet-based phone that lets me memorize the face of my daughter, she whom I haven’t seen face-to-face in nine months and who comes next week to Philadelphia; I’ll track her arrival by cell phone.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Short story published . . .

Just an announcement to say that the online e-zine Fickle Muses has published one of my short stories, "Rusalka", a mermaid story set in Russia at the turn of the century. I'm beginning to wonder how we ever decide what to write about. Some writers talk about the "muse" grabbing us. I usually begin with a germ of an idea, but where it takes me is often surprising. If you go read this story, please leave a comment or sent me a note. Thank you! I'd love to hear your reactions. Beth

Thursday, May 08, 2008

#6 Weather Report

Today the warm air pressed April
and May into rainy Thursday
with a promise of
humidity to come, summer
heat suggested in lilac scent.
Cherry and dogwood trees bloom,
the pink and white petals
dress any passerby
with bridal anticipation.

I learn of Indian jack-in-the-pulpit;
its roots and pale green leaves
ease night terrors.
Fern fronds uncurl into warmth,
underneath, a line of tiny brown seeds.
Out on the grasses come Canada geese;
Yellow-brown goslings follow.
Even a cardinal flashes
red across the clearing. I return,
healed from winter.

A spring visit to Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia led me to this poem in response to today's Poetic Asides prompt to write a poem on weather.

#5 Diagnosis

A round circle
the size of a dime
talks to me,
as if ever I could see
down bloodstreams
into eternity.
And shall I swim then
to heart’s content,
from my deepest dreams
taken, yet to deeper dreams

This poem came last night almost in a dream. I've been thinking lately about whether to stop writing poetry and just focus on the novel as some writers believe we can do one but not both. But I really enjoyed being part of an online writing community last month through Sunday Scribblings and Poetic Asides. So I'm hesitating. I'd really like your opinion on poetry vs. fiction and whether writers can pursue both.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

#4 Maya, mother mine

Maya, mother mine, beauteous
Hollywood starlet, couldn’t bowl, burned
biscuits every time, loved us kids and loved
to dance. She once crossed a freeway
to grab a beer and flew
80 feet in front of a truck.
A little wobbly thereafter,
this wild woman died far too young from a fall
into the ocean, a sneaker wave
no one expected. In repose, still
innocent, still unforgettable,
still my mother.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

#3 I have two sisters . . .

I have two sisters, one dear,
one lost somewhere in Texas.
I’m not sure exactly when
we stopped talking, maybe the day
she tried to steal a television
out the back window. She was so pretty
people stopped to stare.
We couldn’t walk through a grocery store
for the men who followed her.
I went off to college.
She joined a California commune.
She visited the Tate house two weeks
before the Manson murders.
I became a teacher.
Sometimes when the phone rings,
I think I will hear her voice.

Friday, May 02, 2008

#2 Family

All I have is this picture
taken on a porch sometime around 1896,
at Fort Reno, Oklahoma.
My grandmother dressed in white
with tight little girl curls
framing her face;
her father sits in military dress,
almost at attention, his eyes unfocused.
My great-grandmother reclines in a hammock.

I stare at this picture,
frayed around the edges, searching
for family.
His mother sits in a rocking chair
on the far right, separated by a pillar.
My great-grandmother at sixteen
stares at the camera,
perhaps insolent, perhaps indolent, perhaps
pregnant with an unwanted child.
Family stories say
her mother-in-law was strict.
I don’t know.

My grandmother, that little girl in white,
ran away with a traveling salesman
when she was sixteen,
all the way to California
just before World War I,
perhaps carrying this very
tiny blue glass perfume bottle,
its top decorated with a tassle that I pack away.
I fold up a receiving blanket
embroidered with white silk,
and look again at birth dates marked
in an old baby book. Family.

This poem comes from Sunday Scribblings prompt on family. I've long wanted to write about this photo. You can click on the photo to see a larger image.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

#1 Philadelphia Spring

Yesterday, cherry tree blossoms graced
streets and sidewalks,
turning these row homes into
something grand. People came out on linked
porches to marvel, somehow lighter.

Today, it rained, the pink
turned to gray. Block after block,
row houses remain. Difficult
to see family here, where wilderness once
prevailed. Difficult today to see past
one woman’s ranting, “You don’t look

Today's prompt comes from Sunday Scribblings: to write of family. I'll be thinking of this prompt all week; today I started with our family neighborhood here in Philadelphia.

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.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mako Yoshikawa, writer at work.

I just finished reading Mako Yoshikawa's second novel, Once Removed, and was just delighted at the layers of craft at work in this convoluted story of step-sisters and their relationships over time. Skillful and moving, the story shows effective use of:
--multiple points of view, changing each chapter
--inner dialogue balanced well with vivid description of action and perceptions and reactions. Example: "She recognized him right away. He was standing toward the back of the crowd . . . . Her realization of this simple fact was like a jolt of energy, like three meals and a restful night's sleep in a bed rolled into one" (129)."
--Key concrete images used throughout the story come home in the conclusion to link tightly to the theme, and more than one theme is revealed and resolved satisfactorily, but in a way that gives the reader the sense these characters will continue to live on and grow.
--Characters add depth through revelations, but each character does not know what others know, and the emotional depth comes through clearly as key events are gradually revealed.
--Language is used with precision, with one thread being puns and one character limited in language.
--The story does not back away from large issues, cancer, adultry, Hiroshima, yet puts them in human scale through stories within stories.
Overall rating: A

Friday, March 14, 2008

A writer's questions

I write daily. I read lots of good how-to-write-brilliantly articles. I sweat and send stuff out. I've even gotten a few things published now, but sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself. And I doubt, doubt, doubt.

This week, my questions now are:
--How do writers find the balance between setting, dialogue, action, and internal dialogue?
--How do writers create a sense of conflict?
--Is there a writing group online I could work with?
--Are my characters strong enough? Different enough?
--Specifically how do writers move a rough first draft to a final?
--How do writers sustain themselves when writing a novel?
--Are there smaller online writing groups that really work? How does a writer who's "on the road" find out about them?

Every writer's interview seems to indicate a different kind of process. Some work with intensely detailed outlines; others wing it. I know writing is a discipline, a long-term commitment. Even every time I pick up a new book, I'm noticing strategies and skills as the story unfolds.

Today's progress on Standing Stones: Found some wonderful research on conditions on the transport ships (think Australia, 1840), and discovered Australia put together a circle of massive standing stones (privately subscribed) in 1998 to honor Scottish (and Celtic) emigrees. After a rush of about 800 words a day, I'm slower today, wanting to fill in details that make the scene come alive. A new character fell off the boat literally, but no main characters got killed (which I was a little worried about). And the next step: Keep writing!