Thursday, November 30, 2006

Poetry Meme for an Icy Day

The day continues. . . I found this meme at Of Books and Bicycles. Go tell Dorthy hello.

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was....Nursery rhymes were the first poems I heard. My mother used to read me a lot of nursery rhymes from a large anthology of varied children’s literature. These memories go back as far as I can recall—two years old, maybe eighteen months old. Always she emphasized the rhythm as she read, often singing them. I suspect this is a large part of why I now have an instinctive feel for rhythm and rhyme.

The first poem that struck me with an appreciable emotional impact was Mary Oliver’s “The Swimming Lesson”. I felt stunned after reading it, as though someone had struck me and knocked away my breath. It very much spoke to the reality in which I was living at the time.

2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and........Joyce Kilmer'sI think that I shall never see/ a poem as lovely as a tree...” Three other children and I were dressed up in colonial costumes and performed our poems in the county courtroom, for a bicentennial program of some kind. I remember being faintly irritated at having to perform in public and fairly relieved that I didn’t have trouble pronouncing any words, unlike one of my friends who repeatedly stumbled over the word “sinewy” in his poem, “The Village Blacksmith”. We were eight years old.

3. I read/don't read poetry because....I read poetry because it surprises and reassures me I am not alone. I read poetry because of my ongoing love affair with words and the beauty and meaning they can carry when they are well-placed. I read poetry because very often it says what I most long to hear and am most afraid of hearing; it speaks to a deeper part of myself than I am comfortable with, a part that cannot be denied, regardless of discomfort.

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is .......Mary Oliver’s “The Kingfisher” or “The Kookaburras”; Job chapters 38-41 or Psalm 104; Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come”: Michael Burn’s “For my Son, Who Wants to Know What I Think About God”; Kathleen Norris’s “Afterward”; Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Why I Could Not Accept Your Invitation” or “The Art of Disappearing”.

5. I write/don't write poetry, but..............I write poetry, but I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a poet. I do sometimes, for the sake of simplicity, but it is always with a certain amount of uneasiness, as though I am claiming for myself something much bigger than I could ever understand, let alone be. In her book The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris draws a parallel between the poet and the prophet, a parallel deemed uncannily applicable by that inner voice which speaks the authoritative “Yes” or “No” without my having much say in the matter. Writing poetry is rarely a completely willing activity on my part; it is more like breathing when inhalation is painful.

6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature.....Poetry takes me deeper much faster. It is less entertaining, for the most part, and more demanding.

7. I find poetry......everywhere, in nearly everything, although sometimes I have to purposefully look for it, and I may not always like what it’s saying. Always, though, I find poetry worthwhile, although this doesn’t apply to ALL poetry. I’m picky. The good stuff, though, is continually speaking, whether in words or in images or life.

8. The last time I heard poetry....was last night. The Older Daughter read her latest creation to us at the table. The latest draft of her latest creation, I should say. I would love to go to more (or any!) official poetry readings, but getting out at night is difficult when Great Scott doesn’t get home until 7 or 8, and we live an hour away from the nearest quality readings (in good weather). I pine.

9. I think poetry is like....a shining net woven of words. If done skillfully enough, it catches and holds meaning within it, something magical and mystical and at the same time very practical.

I'm tagging anyone who'd like to tackle this, but especially Julie and Michael and Beth.

First Ice of the Season

Above is our lilac bush at 8:30 this morning.
Yesterday's high was 72 degrees F. Today's high we hit first thing in the morning at 33 degrees. Great Scott and I sat up to watch the news last night. The advancing front was impressive, especially the sharp line of temperature difference. In front of it were temperatures in the 60's well into the evening. Behind it numbers in the 30's were the rule. Schools across southwest Missouri are closed in anticipation of the 6+ hours of ice that have begun already with an anticipated 4-6 inches of snow to follow in our area.
I filled the tub with water this morning in preparation for the power outage that is probably immanent due to the lines being downed by ice and broken branches. Great Scott is washing dishes (What a Man!) and is playing Christmas music; the girls have just climbed out of bed at 9:30. Today we will probably put up the Christmas tree. The cats want out. Then they want in. They want out. In. Out. In. Out. They are angry. They have gone to the study upstairs to curl in Great Scott's desk chair and sleep in disgust.
Rain continues to fall, freezing on branches and grass. Forgive me; I rather love it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Creative Genius Runs Amok..Like a Turkey with Its Head Cut Off

This weekend the girls made turkey cookies--happy little turkey cookies like this:

I was helping and taking pictures when I noticed a strange aberation among the happy little turkey cookies. One of them had three eyes.

"What is this?" I asked.

"That one," replied The Younger Daughter sweetly, "is a mutant. You don't have to worry about him, though. He's nice. It's the devil turkeys I'm making with the red M&M's that you have to watch out for."

We ate the devil turkeys promptly, lest they slay us. Thus, sadly, no pictures.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving News

Over Thanksgiving, Michael Wells, editor of Rogue Poetry Review, announced that he was nominating one of my poems, "Mania", for inclusion in the 2006 Pushcart Prize Anthology. I'm honored for "Mania" to have been chosen, of course, as some of you know, since I emailed you to share the rejoicing.

One of you sent back a response that made me laugh aloud at the keyboard, probably because it so accurately captured how I felt, myself: "WAHOO! PUSHCART NOMINATION! AFFIRMATION, BABY!"

"Now that," said Great Scott, who had come to investigate my outburst, "is a man who understands!" Indeed.

If you follow the link from Rogue Poetry Review to read "Mania", I'd like to explain that it was written about the manic phase of bipolar disorder, a state often characterized by high energy, restlessness, sleeplessness, pressurized thoughts and speech and sometimes by rhyming "clanging" word association, and irritability capable of escalating into violent or other self-destructive behavior before crashing into depression. The mockingbird in the poem is the manic phase itself. Bipolar disorder is also sometimes associated with heightened states of creativity/production, and some people with the disorder are reluctant or refuse to take medication for fear no longer being able to create as fluidly and profusely as before--or even not at all.

A second note: I really, really DO like mockingbirds. A lot.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I fell down them this morning. After sitting at the bottom crying for a little while (and frightening the girls by doing so, I'm afraid), I carefully dragged myself into the bathroom and from a sitting position pressed a cold washcloth over my left foot, which was the only thing feeling any sharp pain. Eventually it stopped. Only after I got home from taking the girls to school did I begin to feel the deeper bruisings.

Some days are like this. You take steps you've taken everyday for weeks, months, years. You do everything the way you've always done it, and suddenly a stair worn smooth is taken with a little too much nonchalance, and you find yourself landing in a battered heap at the bottom. You relieve the immediate damage, but later find yourself the unexpected recipient of steady pain. It accompanies you throughout the day, purple bruises rising through the flesh, messages from the interior.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Quote: The Mind

"Sometimes the mind, for reasons we don't necessarily understand, just decides to go to the store for a quart of milk. "

--Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Great Scott was sitting on the floor flipping through the teacher’s guide of his literature textbook when his eye caught the phrase “endstopped line” in the back. At first he was pleased. Then I heard him say grimly, “Wait a minute. This is listed under the Index of Skills.”

Under the Index of Skills?!?!?

Can you hear the screaming from there?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Screech Owl

Yesterday afternoon when I stopped at the mailbox on my way to pick up the girls, a dead bird about the same body size of a dove was lying beside the driveway. I walked past it on the way back to the car, and suddenly a small detail registered: feathered toes. I retraced my steps, stooped to lift the ruffled body in my hands and found I was holding a small, grey screech owl, not long dead, still soft and pliable, one wing broken and hanging at an odd angle, one eye missing, but with no blood or guts marring its perfection. Its feathers were as soft as mist, softer than The Great Golden Sun Cat's white belly, so soft my fingertips could barely feel them at all. "Oh, baby," I heard myself breath involuntarily, "I'm so sorry." I laid him in the shade behind the mailbox, and on the way home stopped to pick him up, laying him on some papers on The Younger Daughter's lap in the backseat.

When we got to the house, the girls and I held him and gently admired him, straightening his broken wing and tucking it back against his body. We stroked his white and grey breast and with our index fingers traced his legs and feet, the feathers as fine as fur upon his curled toes. Carefully I lifted his "ear" tufts to show the girls what he would have looked like with them aloft, then smoothed them down again. At last, spade in hand, we took his small body to the northern creek where the screech owls call on summer evenings. The Older Daughter guarded him from Tongue Depressor Kitty while I dug a hole. We lined it with long autumn grasses, laid him in the nest and covered him over with more grasses and finally soft, rich dirt. The Younger Daughter said a prayer. We scattered dead leaves over the newly disturbed earth and left buckbrush, its arcing branches full of bright berries and paling leaves, on the grave.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Writing Sonnets

Last week a very dear friend sent me a gift in the mail: Mark Jarman's Unholy Sonnets. I've been reading through these with a great deal of admiration. Sonnets--well done sonnets--fascinate and impress me. Personally, I very much enjoy writing sonnets, but am entirely unable to write serious ones. There is something about the form that for me invites absurdity in the act of composition. It's very sad. Truly.

Raining Cats and Frogs

When angels weep and startled toads descend
from out the cloud-veiled heavens in a burst
of rain, I strain in efforts to defend
my brain from overload. Unless we’re cursed
with Egypt’s ancient plagues I can’t see how
amphibians can shower from above.
And why not larger beasts (perhaps a cow)
the cherubs out of heaven thus might shove?
Still, since these frogs are croaking ‘round my feet
the best of it I set myself to make.
T’refuse angelic bounty is not meet,
so I will set aside my taste for steak
and, putting to good use what hast been given,
will glut on frog-legs lightning-fried in heaven.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Evening 2006: A Family Event

The last thing the girls said to me when they got out of the car at school this morning was, "Don't forget to vote!" Tonight The Younger Daughter decorated her new rinsing cup with the word "Vote!" around its rim and mock election returns on the sides. This is what happens when a family sits around the television watching the incoming election statistics the way it watches its favorite movies.

I understand that Missouri's senatorial race is one of national interest. Certainly its stem cell initiative is. As I write, Great Scott calls out numbers from the next room, numbers that don't really mean very much yet, with only 5% reporting. Both matters are going to be exceedingly close. One thing that the Talent/McCaskill race and the stem cell initiative have done is to increase voter turnout in this state; estimates thus far are higher than they've been since the 1994 election, we heard on the news tonight. Evidently some locations were unprepared. Near Joplin, a shortage of ballots necessitated photocopying ballots that will have to be hand counted, so Missouri's final tally may not be known until tomorrow morning.

I was 2 months old, so the family legend goes, when my grandfather sat me on his knee and asked, "How's my little Republican today?" Most of my family (ok, all of them that I know of) are Republicans, although not so adamantly as was my grandfather, and I was certainly raised from a Republican viewpoint. That said, I was also raised (by my very rational and logical father) to find out the facts and think hard about them, to recognize ways that political ads (on both ends of the spectrum) twist and use facts to a particular politician's advantage, and to not ever simply turn off my brain. I don't vote a straight party ticket (Sorry, Grandpa), and I'm not entirely happy with everything that's gone on in this administration. As a matter of fact, I don't know that "Republican" is an entirely apt description, although "Democrat" wouldn't be, either.

It would be my hope that as our girls grow up, they'll stay interested and enthusiastic about doing their research and voting, even if their views don't coincide with my own. What I would most like for them to do is to think, to consider what is said and what is strategically not said and to carefully form their conclusions and decisions. It's a family tradition, after all.

Notes: Part 2

Back in September I blogged about having to rewrite The Older Daughter's absence excuse. It had been a little too out of the ordinary for her tastes. The Younger Daughter, however, has no such reservations. She loves odd notes, the wilder the better. Together, we have entirely too much fun with her teachers.

Mrs. K.,

Would it be possible for you to dash off a note to me when [The Younger Daughter] fails to turn in an assignment?...We find that hanging [The Younger Daughter] upside down and lashing her bare feet with wet noodles is a much better deterrent if applied promptly after an infraction.

Thank you,
Cindy Lawson

Have I mentioned that this school (and our family) is blessed with extraordinarily good-humored faculty as a whole? A very good thing.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Young Dragon's Guide to Proper Behavior

1. Always (all ways) be polite to other dragons.

2. Mind your hoard. If you keep it tidy, you'll know at once if any of it goes missing.

3. Don't be a messy eater. Clean up the armor bits when you're finished.

4. Turn your head away from other dragons when you sneeze. No one likes to be singed.

5. Be respectful of your parent dragons. They are bigger and meaner than you.

Ingenuity is the name of the game in raising precocious children, we are discovering. The younger one is very into dragons. Dragons and pirates. I'm seeing a treasure factor pattern here. Might explain the state of her lair.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Friday Quote: On Friendship

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor to measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away."

--George Eliot

Because of the isolation of our location, in part, but even more because of my own distrustful nature, I do not have very many such friends, and the ones I do have are far away, our contacts few and far between. This makes them all the more valued.