Monday, November 25, 2013

From the spine . . .

Margit Sage posted a spine poem the other day. 

The challenge: Stack up those books you are currently reading and build a poem from just the titles. So here is my spine poem -- with photo. I did add just a few words to the last line. Probably violating all kinds of poetry rules. And two of the books are missing, already returned to the library before I took the photo this morning.

Clair of the sea light,
a discovery of witches,
the light between oceans,
a mermaid quilt,
salvage the bones,
an orphan train,
Gould's Book of Fishes
the other typist could not follow.

I'm not sure this process works, but it was fun and a little surprising how those titles fit together, though the ending poem is more than cryptic.. Some writing groups meet at the library and scrounge the shelves for inspiration. I like that you are reading the books in the poem.

Consider for your book list? I'd recommend Jesmyn West's Salvage The Bones, not an easy read of a scrabble-poor family just before Katrina hit the bayou coast. And, of course, The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales! Verdict still pending on the rest.

Friday, November 22, 2013

When I was ten . . .

When I was ten,
I cut my hair with blunt scissors.
I wanted to be a boy
who traveled the ocean,
chased wild deer,
rescued princesses.
When I was twenty, I left
my sisters behind, pulled my hair back,
a constant distraction
to books, lectures, and papers,
a specific progression.
When I was thirty and forty,
I worked and bore my babies.
Someday, I said.
When I am sixty, I shall dye my hair red
and sing like a mermaid.
When I am seventy, I will mourn
my children grown, my lost sisters.
I will gather my bones and dance.

A Facebook friend is thinking about dyeing her hair red and posted a picture to show off her possible new color. Setting aside all else, thoughts about the masks we assume with makeup and hair dye, and our own sense about what makes a woman beautiful at any age, this poem came. And then on Flickr, I found this image, red hair -- wild and free.

Untitled by Marianne Williams (Flickr)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Diving into the Wreck . . . late.

I was drawn to the poetry prompt of a few weeks ago on Poets on a Page yet could not, did not make room for a poem. I could say the poem just didn't come along, like some happy dance or blues that rise up from the bone. But the prompt to read and think about a poem and then write a poem maybe in response to or inspired by or . . . that prompt stayed with me.

I have always loved Adrienne Rich's "Diving Into the Wreck". For Adrienne's poem goes down by layers, tracing her physical descent into deep water, until she faces that essential truth of being nameless, despite all she carries, nameless and facing the death of those who have gone before, equally forgotten. Adrienne has a companion there in the deep, even if it is her twinned self.  Here is my poem in response.

. . . for Adrienne Rich

I too have floated alone,
along the top of ocean waves,
looking fifty, eighty feet down,
seeing the fan coral sway
to unseen currents,
the blue-green sand dip down
and darken to the black unknown.

Silent, I stay long after the others
paddle back to that tiny boat,
my fingers splayed wide to catch
every sense of water and deep,
intrigued as any hunter
at every flicker of life below.

When I finally return,
I have no words.
Each breath I take fills up my chest
with the immense, precious blue below
that I almost understand, that I cannot forget,
like the song of a poet,
like the memory of a dream,
like the last flash of red
before the sun falls into the sea.

Snorkeling Soufriere
Snorkeling Soufriere
Jason Hedlund on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Flash Fiction: "The Bench"

"The Bench"

If I hadn't been so concerned about whether my plumbing was working properly, I wouldn't have sat so long on my favorite bench. The day was calm enough at Manito Park and nearly warm for fall. 

I could see Doc Harkness as clearly as if he were sitting in front of me on his rolling stool, the sun backlighting both the red and yellow leaves behind him and his earnest expression.

"You've got cancer, Em." His vowels stretched out past my ability to comprehend.

How was I supposed to tell Jack? He had hollered at me as I made my way out the door just this morning. "Pick up the grandkids on your way home, and don't forget my rye bread." Our lives were so ordinary. We were both retired. He had his football. I had my knitting. He read. I cooked, and I was supposed to call the plumber.

Instead I had stopped at the park on my way home from the doctor. Jack, rye bread, grandkids, even the plumber, all forgotten. I nudged one of the yellow leaves with my foot. What was needed now was a good spaceship to take me away from all this. I could spend my last months on a planet where everyone swam in a blue sea full of blue light. I spread my hands wide, as if the cancer swimming in my blood were visible. One month? Two months? 

I watched another several leaves drop down on the ground. The turn of seasons. It's just that I thought Jack would go first. The sun shifted behind a cloud and the air grew chill. I should go home. I should tell Jack, but I sat on the bench and watched the leaves fall, one by one. 

My cell phone rang. 

"You coming home?" asked Jack.

"Yes, dear. I didn't get the rye bread, and I don't want the grandkids today."

"Well, come home. I miss you."

Today is Tuesday, so that's the day I'm to write a post for my travel blog. Or work on any number of reports with deadlines. Or quilt. Ooops! I'm guessing that writing for NaNoWriMo is loosening up my writing. Sally from Sally's Scribbles, had commented on my post for Veteran's Day. I visited her blog to find this neat little writing challenge called Writer Wednesday Blog Hop. The challenge is to write a flash fiction inspired by the photo, the title, and five key words (day, calm, stool, vowel, spaceship). Participating writers then post their story and read what others have written. Somehow my story "The Bench" (329 words) came along.  Yes, it's FICTION, meaning my health is just fine, thank you! Read what others have written?

Monday, November 11, 2013

On Veteran's Day . . .

Veteran's Day is not an easy holiday.

In the 1960s, my sister tried to go to a peace march with her two small children. The kids were then under five. She got as close as a block away from the demonstration. She turned away when she saw demonstrators running towards her with bloody faces.

We were faced with such a deluge of misinformation then. Thousands of people did demonstrate against the Viet Nam War, and the war ended 'early' because of those protests. Thousands more served and came home, forever changed.

In 1975, I married my sweetie, a Viet Nam vet, a quiet, intelligent man who from November 1966 to September 1968 served in the U.S. Army, with 8 months as a combat infantryman in Viet Nam. I came to understand his nightmares and listened to his stories. We went to a veterans' meeting once. Every vet knew where the exits were. Allen wrote a novel based roughly on his experiences. It was not published, but we found our way to rebuilding a good life -- one far from thoughts of war. In this age of self-publishing, I yet hope to bring his book out.

When the Gulf War began, followed by troops sent to Afghanistan, I was saddened by the thought that so many men and women would be affected once again by war. I was teaching then and saw my students come home from those wars with varying degrees of PTSS (post traumatic stress syndrome). One vet had brain lesions from exposure to chemicals; another started talking and couldn't stop. I knew pretty well what those men and women faced.

Today's news celebrated the homecoming of a new generation of vets. Moving scenes of families reunited. To honor this day, I'm sharing what Allen once wrote.

Most people live quiet, ordinary, decent lives filled with daily acts of unremarked kindness and generosity. Most soldiers are also decent people caught in a horrendous situation. As a former combat infantryman, I can attest to the fundamental decency of most soldiers. On a daily basis, I saw soldiers share their food and even clothing with the homeless, the displaced, and begging children. I saw soldiers risk their lives to protect prisoners form the anger of their fellow soldiers who'd just seen their friends die. I saw medics work to care for our wounded enemies while bullets flew all around us. There is nothing heroic or even special in any of that. It is simply part of the basic human decency that is so common -- and that goes unreported.

On Veteran's Day, I think it's appropriate to remember that many who serve in the military have sacrificed in the field and also on their return home in ways that we do not talk about. We trust our leaders to not make commitments without considering these effects that last well past that homecoming day.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Two November poems . . .

The first snow has melted but this morning is a little bleak. A cold and rainy early morning with folks already driving to work. Here are two morning commute poems, embellished by the camera art of Sandy Brown Jensen..

Morning Commute #1

My poem got lost
on the way to work
this morning,
fog-bound fields,
trees patterned against the sky,
faded photocopies.
A few frail yellow and red leaves
float above the bones of a winter landscape,
with many gray days ahead.

Morning Commute (Sandy Brown Jensen)
November Weather Report

Early Tuesday morning,
clumps of clouds
hang low over the valley
as if they had fallen -- like stars,
like dreams
too close to earth.

On Wednesday, gray dimples
fill the sky, flecks of light
at the horizon hint at the sun,
while trees shiver yellow.

Thursday, brilliant sun blinks
and twins to moon,
traceries of cloud
alternately hide and reveal the sun.
Wispy streamers of gray drift,
filling up the sky.
Pale yellow bands light up
the edge of the world,
now yellow, gray, and blue,
layered in morning harmony.

Later the moon rises,
a perfect circle in a glassine sky,
white shadow circling,
bright aura shimmering.

Oregon morning (Sandy Brown Jensen)
Sandy Brown Jensen lives in Oregon, writes, paints, and teaches creative writing and digital storytelling. Sometime in the last few years, she grabbed a digital camera and began to explore what she saw and loved. Her more than 6,000 photos are used with permission, available on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.She's also on Vizify, an interesting online profile site I know nothing about!  Sandy and I taught together. Just before retiring, I took a creative writing class from her and am privileged to be her friend.

So for those of you who are curious about Big Brother, the Internet, and your personal data, consider checking Vizify out. Apparently, you push a few buttons and an online visual profile appears -- all about you. I'm going to try it. Here's a neat background article on Vizify by social studies teacher Dawn Casey-Rowe.

If you're here because of you like to read or write poetry, and perhaps are suffering from withdrawal by the end of OctPoWriMo (a poem a day for the month of October), consider visiting Poets on the Page, a weekly poetry prompt each Monday -- with a link.

May your week go well.

Friday, November 01, 2013

November 1: NaNoWriMo begins . . .

How do we challenge ourselves to reach our goals?

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, has officially begun.

My word count today = 510 words on Rivers of Stone, not bad at all for someone who routinely writes 250-300 words a day. My personal goal (as a NaNo rebel) is to write 10,000 words this month, far below the 50,000 words that is the norm for NaNoWriMo writers. But 10,000 words seems more than enough for me.

Today I finished reading Sylvia Van Kirk's Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1983). Van Kirk unveils how early fur traders across Canada and the northern United States benefited from marrying Native American women.

Letitia Hargrave (Wikipedia)
Dubbed 'country wives,' these women and their M├ętis children created a bridge between two divergent cultures. But once the Scottish chief traders began to bring Scottish wives with Victorian values to the wilderness, these native wives were ostracized, then accepted, and then ostracized again. Her book includes maps, excerpts from letters, and photographs which bring these stories to life. For the wilderness required usefulness in a way that a Victorian woman of a certain class, raised to shine genteelly in a drawing room, would not be prepared for.

At York Factory, for example, Hudson's Bay would freeze-up in October with Spring break-up allowing the passage of ships not until May -- 8 months of isolation. Letitia Hargrave, the Scottish wife of Chief Trader James Hargrave, had a piano at York Factory, servants, enjoyed wine, bore children, and wrote gossipy letters home to her large family -- a treasure today for researchers. But there are no letters from 'country wives.'

Read more of Letitia Hargrave's letters at the Champlain Society.
Check out NaNoWriMo and jump right in!.
Take a look at Sylvia Van Kirk's book, Many Tender Ties, at Amazon.

Have you taken the NaNoWriMo challenge? If yes, are you a NaNo rebel setting your own goals?

Here are two quite interesting articles to keep the writing steaming right along:

"Role Playing Tip #1: Being Angry" at Mind Weave Role-Playing Platform

Karen Woodward's post, "Creating Vivid Characters for NaNoWriMo"