Walking into the Story

I don’t know how you walked into this story:
The candles were lit, the doors were locked,
the windows closed, the pantry stocked.
The fire was stoked. No one had knocked.

I’d arranged a sealed circuit for this tale:
The plot was planned, the setting set,
characters drawn, expectations met.
The words were gathered. I had cast the net.

Yet somehow, when I turned around,
there you stood without a sound,
like you didn’t quite know what to do,
or you were waiting for my starting cue.

Your presence changes everything–
new characters will shift the telling
Now we must make a new decision,
and begin the tale with a revision.

Well–I was really excited about those first two stanzas. They raced themselves out the doorway of my brain and onto the paper. Then the whole train juddered to a halt, and I had to force the last two out with crowbars. I’ll let it stew a bit, and maybe I’ll come back to find them readier to be part of the conversation.

Gratitude List:
1. Goslings: Mama Goose had a hatching a couple days ago. Too hard to see through the long grass, but we think there were about four or five babies. Yesterday morning, Jon saw them all walking on the grass across the creek from the pond. By afternoon, they were gone. I hope they went down Cabin Creek toward the Susquehanna, and found a turtle-free place to grow strong and healthy.
2. Ducklings: This morning, we had to stop class and watch as Mama Duck paraded her eleven ducklings around on the roof outside my window. She had her nest outside the French Room window. We called the office and they called Herb, and Herb climbed a ladder to the roof. Mama flew away, and Herb gathered her babies into a bucket and climbed down the ladder. He’s got experience with this process–he says ducks are always building nests on the roofs, and then sometimes the little ones can’t get down. Presumably babies are all happily following Mama down the MillStream.
3. Community baseball. Ellis had a game tonight. Wrightsville was trounced, worse than we trounced Windsor last week. It’s fun to spend the evening outside with other folks, watching a game.
4. We got a little panicky when we got home and couldn’t find Fred. I hadn’t seen him since I left for school in the morning. Jon went out with a flashlight and checked every farm building. We can’t just call like we used to, because he can no longer hear us calling. Jon even walked along the road for a while, but couldn’t see any trace of him. When he came back, he did a loop up behind the house, and there was the old man, sitting quietly next to the basement window. So grateful that the cat came back.

May we walk in Beauty!

Season of Revisions

Now we come to the Season of Revisions. I am not only speaking of poetry here; I am speaking poetically. I have habits of mind and habits of space and movement to revise and to refine. I have thoughts and ideas, plans and intentions to revise and to renovate. Perhaps my poetic revisions can be like a wave that will help me in other areas to continue to move always in the direction I want to move, to break the stasis, to step out of the rut, to live–as US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera says, “in a flourishing way.”

Earlier in the month of April, I tossed out this poem one evening:

Message from the Empress

In the orchard over the ridge
the trees have broken into a riot of pink,
lascivious against the rain-wet grass beneath.

Let us riot too.

Let us spread
our blooming fingers to the sky,
opening our mouths and our hearts,
meeting destruction with bloom,
with green, with simple beauty,
with overpowering fragrance.

Let us waft.
Let us be wanton.

Last week I subjected it to a several-step revision process that I asked my Creative Writing students to engage in:

Step One:
Change up the line lengths. Consider tossing in some tabs to change the shape of the poem on the page. Or center. Or right-justify.

Step Two:
Find six interesting words in your poem. Using an online thesaurus, your own head, or the help of a friend, write three+ synonyms for each word, and substitute them for the words in your poem.

Step Three:
Go back to Step Two. Retype those six words, or choose six more. Find three+ rhymes for each of those words, using an online rhyming dictionary, or the help of a friend or your own head. Can you tuck any of these words into your poem? Also, listen for words with similar sounds–vowels and consonants–even if they don’t rhyme. Can you add or substitute any of those words in your poem?

Step Four:
Rewrite your poem, using rhythm and rhyme. This one may feel like the most complicated one, but see if you can feel a sense of the rhythm of your words. (I have revised my revision process: originally I had steps three and four in opposite order. They make much more sense when you transpose them.)

Step Five:
Read through all your versions. Is there one that stands out as the strongest to you? Are there parts of different ones that you like? Mix and match. Choose your favorite version so far and type that one in.

I ended up with this:

Message from the Empress

In the grove over the ridge, the trees
have broken into a flourish of pink,
lascivious against the rain-wet green,
a thousand mouths seeking a drink.

Let us riot too.
     Let us fill our thirst.

Let us spread our blooming fingers,
opening our mouths and hearts, dancing
away ruin with bloom, lingering
with simple beauty, with aching fragrance.

Let us waft.
     Let us be wanton.

I’m still not sure that this is my best version, but I feel a real satisfaction. I hope my students can feel a little measure of that satisfaction with their own poems.

Gratitude List:
1. Wise and open-hearted colleagues
2. Sharing food
3. Revising, renewing, renovating, reactivating
4. Yellow feathers, yellow flowers
5. Breath. Inspiration. Breath.

May we walk in Beauty!

Roses and Honey

Poetry First Song

Here is a revision of a poem I wrote last year. I don’t think it’s quite finished. It was pretty loose and free when I first wrote it, which doesn’t bother me, but I wanted to take it into a more mythic rhythm, if I could. I shaped it into something like a triversen, trying to keep the four-beat rhythm on each line–working with the four beats felt like the Kalevalla, and I want to try working more with that old Scandinavian feel.  I’m not sure yet whether it’s better than the original. I’ll post the original at the end of this post, and you can tell me what you think, if you want to. I’m open to critique–feel free to spill some blood upon the page.

Once upon a time, Child, when you were caught in the swirling fog–
remember how it held you, how it caught your arms and legs like brambles,
until you saw the wild rose bush beside the pathway in the woods–

remember how the roses dropped their scarlet petals on the ground,
how the tender centers swelled into ripe red berries,
a little sharp, a little sweet, and how they fed you, how they healed you–

remember how the golden bees swarmed around you as you wandered,
how you cried out in fear, how suddenly the wakeful sun
broke through the buzzing cloud: all was golden, all was sweetness–

remember how you heard the howling in the distance, closing in,
how the beast emerged from the wood, all teeth and claw, all hiss and fury,
how you quelled the urge to run, how you looked it in the eye,

how you spoke into its raging, “What is your name?”
I remember now, how you walked that day out of the mists,
a rose in your hair and honey dripping from your fingers.

Gratitude List:
1. Sorting sea glass, stones and shells with Josiah
2. Getting to bed early and only waking up twice before 5
3. Revising: poetry, plans, ideas
4. Wise people
5. Everything is going to be okay

May we walk in Beauty!

First Version of the poem:

Once upon a time, Child,
when you were caught in the fog–
remember how it held you, how it
caught at your arms and legs like brambles,
until you saw the rose bush
beside the path in the woods–

remember how the roses
dropped their tender petals on the ground,
how the center swelled
into those ripe red berries,
a little sharp, a little sweet,
and fed you, healed you–

remember how the bees
swarmed around you,
how you cried out in fear,
how the sun broke through the buzzing cloud
and all was golden,
all was sweetness–

remember how you heard the howling
off in the distance and closing in,
how the beast emerged from the wood,
all teeth and claw,
how you quelled the urge to run,
how you looked it in the eye
and said, “What is your name?”

I remember now,
how you walked that day
out of the mists,
a rose in your hair
and honey dripping
from your fingers.

Vision and Re-Vision

My classroom door.  Perhaps it’s time to tidy it a bit.

What of Little Red’s mother?
She had to know the child would wander,
had to know the natural curiosity,
the inborn politeness that would not scorn a stranger,
toothy as he was, and oily with charm.

Did she lie awake at night,
heart pounding,
plotting how to protect her child
from wolves and poison and brambles?

And when the strange news reached her,
of her child and her mother
rescued from the ravenous belly of death,
did she quake with the knowledge
of all she could not protect them from?

(We’re practicing poetry revisions in Creative Writing right now.  This is one that will need the scalpel, but I might be able to pull something out of it.  Yesterday, I took one of my poems from a few days ago, threw it up on the Smart Board, and did some revisions right in front of them.  They were really quiet.  I hope that it gave them courage to work their own poems into shape.)

Gratitude List:
1. Re-vision.  Re-shaping.  Re-creating.  Re-making.  Re-forming.  (I am thinking that Visions and Re-Visions might be the name of my next book.  I wonder if it’s been done already.)
2. Fifty miles to the gallon.  I have only driven the Prius for a day now, but I have become what Jon calls a hyper-miler–I drive to get the good mileage.
3. Zesty greens
4. The yellow tulips outside the office at school.  Red stripes through the petals.
5. Phoebe and white-throat sparrow, plaintive and insistent.

May we walk in Beauty!

Song of Opossum

<Prompt 6: Write a Perspective Poem about a person who works at or visits a place you like to visit.  I don’t really go anywhere much at all.  I like to be at the farm, so I am writing my perspective poem about someone who visits Goldfinch Farm.>

I walk when grey dusk is upon us
night–grey as my fog-colored fur

quietly creeping
stealing so silently
through the dried grasses
over the hill

Dusk, when the day-folk have gone away
out of the fields and away from the woods edge

night-folk come foraging
searching for sustenance
gleaning the harvest
left in the fields

What is that?  Scent of cat
up a tree, suddenly
whisk foot, white foot
I stand frozen in moonshadows

The owl is hunting over in the oak grove
raccoon rustles through the last field of corn

eyes agleam in moonlight
silver fur like starlight
sniff and scratch and nibble
homeward I wander


Gratitude List:
1.  Editing and revising
2.  Compassion
3.  Perspective
4.  Eating with friends at the picnic table under the sycamore
5.  Listening

May we walk in Beauty.


2013 October 103

Gratitude List:
1.  Cardboard boxes and tape.  Easiest and most fun Halloween costume prep ever.  I hope they never grow out of their love of transforming boxes into costumes, play sets, posters, spy centers. . .
2.  Fleece pajamas and fleece slippers
3.  Friendship
4.  Revising poetry (Mockingbird says it’s okay to move on to this step)
5.  Working together

May we walk in Beauty.


I used to tie myself in knots with finding the perfect word or phrase for a poem, working and reworking ideas and sounds until things began to sound like something manufactured in a plastics factory.  Then, in November, when I decided I needed to loosen up or let my Poet die a quiet death, I found myself spewing random verbiage all over the place.  This was a good thing: my Poet survived.

Lately, the pendulum has begun to swing back again.  I don’t plan to let myself get knotted into that editorial straitjacket, but I do want to add a little more deliberation to my poetry again.  Here is a revision I worked up on my July first poem.  It’s not significantly different; the biggest change is in the line breaks.  I wanted to create more intention to the rhythm of the lines, with a sudden shift in the final stanza.  I think it works.  I’d be glad of any feedback you have about the differences between the poems.

These are the Days

These are the days when I become
a quiet rock, a quivering leaf,
an ear of lichen listening to the stones grow.

The words have wandered off on tiptoe,
eloquence eludes me, and all my sentences
begin with the word So.

So the wind will sing in my sun-rimed feathers
but my own story waits like a seed in the earth,
like a dream that must rise through mud, a bubble,

the nymph of a damselfly crawling through centuries
up the stalk of a smooth green reed
to be born to the clear blue light.

There is a roaring in my ears
like the sound of a newborn grief or rage.
But it’s only the lazy hum of summer,

of fireflies clicking their aching rhythms
into the velvet indigo of solstice,
communing with the waxing moon.

Another day I’ll dawn,
but for now I will sink
slowly into the pond
with Grandmother Moon
and leave my message with the fish.


Gratitude List:
1.  Variety
2.  Revision
3.  Sweaters and scarves in August
4.  Balance
5.  Partnership

May we walk in beauty.