When I’m by myself
And I close my eyes
I want more
I’m a bore
I’m full of ambition
but short an ignition
I’m focused, but hazy
I’m the wind, I’m a daisy
I’m whatever I want to be
An anything I care to be
And when I open my eyes
What I care to be
I spent hanging out
with boys every recess,
I was one of two girls
“allowed” to play baseball
in the sixth grade lunch recess league.
Every day I wore
the same rag tag jeans
with patches on the knees.
When I went to our larger junior high school,
I decided to embrace my femininity.
I thought I had made
changes in my appearance,
that summer I started
growing my hair out. I
bought new girl clothes
and wore some that first day
of seventh grade.
But as Mrs. Sykes
called out my name
during roll call,
I came forward
to get whatever
she was passing out.
“No, this is a girl.”
Or something similar.
I said, “That’s me.”
Or something similar.
In a better world,
she would have known
The past is a glorified gauntlet,
Where one side of the challenge
is a ready stream of if-onlys and wishes
beyond the hope of tomorrow
But on the other side is
a source of joy and pride in
a life well-lived, strength
sustaining me into the future
Which is to say, it is punishment
only if I walk the gauntlet
letting that side beat me up
Passion, fierce and spirited
Detonator of dynamite
Skipping stones across silent waters
On the mark
My combustible kindling
Looks to ignite.
Peers into conversations,
Ready with a lit match,
Fierce and fiery,
and the idiot
with equal flare and fervor
“Where’s my speaker cord, Denise?”
“How should I know? Why are you asking me?”
I need to speak to Denise
and remind her
Of my power to explode, inflame
and burn through relationships.
I should remind her that she hopes for
Passion, fierce and spirited against intolerance and evil.
Detonator of dynamite
Skipping stones across the silent waters of apathy
How she’s proud when
the flames are harnessed and
accountability and justice occur,
When rights are wronged, and
Unfair rules are reimagined
But then she lights my fire
with random hot-tempered explosions
against her loved ones
I am the one who happily and
my flames with aimless abandon.
But she longs for more
precision in pelting
at inexcusable injustices.
This is a Golden Shovel poem using part of this quote from Samuel Hall Young, who attributes it to John Muir in his book: Alaska Days with John Muir, chapter 7:237 (1915) “Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself; and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold seeking crowd in God’s pure air. It will help you in your efforts to bring to these men something better than gold. Don’t lose your freedom and your love of the Earth as God made it.”
What we keep
Is revealed in our close
Our blessed oasis. Nature’s
Sacrifice, the whisper of her heart…
Calculates her capacity to carry on. She shivers–Wash
The carbon off your
Knife blade, murderer. Your spirit
must be clean.
Thank you for creating me back when seventh grade was a terror and you were quietly ready to fly back to Arizona where your parents had pulled you away from the only home you remembered. When you created me, sunflowers were shining in your center even if not in your circumstances yet.
You bent that hanger that used to hold your hoodie into one giant ear of understanding for the outcasts, the voiceless, and the refugees–all of us who longed to be counted, even if among the dusty.
Then you covered me with your mom’s pantyhose (of all things) and took away my shame by quickly brushing each square inch with a chromatic makeover right out of southern France. You, whose mother demanded to know why your seventh grade report cards were sprinkled with Cs, painted me with a swirling and dancing starry sky. The cypresses mourned the pitfalls of your unsure future. But paired with those uncertainties of the night was a sun of hope right in the curve of my listening ear. It said everything about what you held dear, what you longed for and believed in: a future.
You, who were to stay and keep learning and growing here in this provincial town.
You, who would keep growing a lifetime of compassionate love and justice.
You, who make the world a better place as an activist, artist, and writer.
You, who would practice your French and independence by working on an organic farm in Normandy, sleeping in a barn bedroom, bravely sharing your walls with scritch-scratching farm mice.
You, who moved from Iowa to Illinois to Missouri to Minnesota, while your parents were 7,000 miles away.
You, who have crossed fluctuant oceans and come back again and again to love.
You, who this very weekend with Thomas will go back to the town where you painted me.
Back to the birth place of your dearest friend since seventh grade, for whom you will have a baby shower.
Back to this dear friend who introduced you to her college friend, Thomas.
Fruits from every land
Fill ships passing through
the Strait of Hormuz,
Destined for our produce stands.
I am a fresh fruit connoisseur.
Covered with playful filaments, the red rambutan
Nestles a smooth and sweet pearly gift from Thailand.
The Fuji apple from China, the size of a softball,
Is as sweet and crisp as a new day.
The tough rich purple of the mangosteen
Opens to show its flowery frosted petals from Indonesia.
Succulent neon navel naranja from Spain
is like opening my Christmas stocking every day.
Mangos from all over the world,
but the ones from Egypt win–
Green and dully camouflaged,
Creamy texture, color of marmalade
luscious and honeyed sweetness within.
The Elaichi banana from Kerala
Fits in the palm of my hand
and tastes like a firm bite of Eden.
The golden kiwi from Italy is like joyful sunshine.
Syrupy sweet melon from Iran,
the dripping juice as sticky as honey.
Yellow Rosemary pear from South Africa,
Delicate white peach from Jordan
Long juicy grapes from India,
Tart, sweet pineapple from the Philippines,
I could go on and on.
I am a fresh fruit connoisseur.
Inspired by a quote in this poem Homesick: A Plea for our Planet –
“How do we not mold our hearts after the first spruce tree who raised her hand and begged to be cut into piano keys so the elephants could keep their tusks?” ~Andrea Gibson
I Did. Now It’s Your Turn, People A Roundel
(After Andrea Gibson)
Mold yourselves after me?
I am sharply dressed,
But I am just a tree.
You? You aren’t guests.
What you’ve done has messed
Up our home. Don’t you agree?
Elephant isn’t the only one stressed.
Brains and hearts hold the key.
Stop and let us take rest.
Do it, so we can all be free.
You? You aren’t guests.
Josh who throws hope around like bells
ringing clear and bright
and asks how everyone’s doing,
who is a tall lighthouse and a shady forest
who is a peaceful hike in Saudi
and a good run on the beach
whose kind walls are made of faith
Josh who listens patiently
as we sit on the cushy chairs in Caribou
and I list all the reasons I can’t do my job.
Josh who believes in me,
sits with his sweet mocha untouched as he
enthusiastically tells of the latest research
and what books he wants to lend me from the
overflowing shelves in his office.
Josh who plans for success for all students
who gently high fives the little ones
who brings jokes for the teens
Josh who disciplines with sharp self-control
who astutely initiates staffing changes
who introduces us to literary giants and
gives us all wigs to put on as we contemplate
our Wildly Important Goal for the year
Josh who plans for success for all of us
whose big ideas surprise, scare, and scintillate
Whose presence brings comfort during conflict,
wisdom when we didn’t know we needed it,
and identifies strength
when we didn’t know we had it.
Josh who throws hope around like bells
ringing clear and bright
is leaving us,
Josh who prays for us
and with us
is leaving us,
Josh whose love and joy fill the school
is leaving us,
and his hope and prayers and love and joy–
will linger after
The constant conversation:
How many more days? We’ll leave the day after school’s out.
Finally the day arrives.
We get up early and
climb into the car.
Positioned on the back of the front seats
are the cloth slings my mother sewed,
each painted with our names.
They are filled with snacks
we got to choose ourselves,
plus brand new coloring and puzzle books
and a fresh box of crayons
Late that afternoon we stop half-way
at a cheap motel in St. George, Utah,
or maybe Cedar City if we made good time
The next day we get on the road
again early. Our travel bags and
snacks help the day pass
And that evening we arrive in
time for dinner in
Here will be our summer home–
six weeks in
delight and wonder,
swimming in the public pool,
even library visits
are magical here.
The forgotten conversation: How many more days?
Wait! What do you mean it’s time to go home!?
the recipe of
freckling the kitchen
So many fluorescent flecks
threatening to spoil the
into the meeting at 6:50 p.m.
8:50 a.m. Pacific,
the anniversary of
the birth of my beloved–
with carrot caky goodness
Wisdom was born eons ago
in a small town called Adversity. She has
the bruises and scars
to show she is a graduate of
UWS–the University of the Way of Suffering.
When she gets to an impasse,
Wisdom braves the decision,
she persists and either turns back,
retracing her steps,
or finds a new route.
the status quo
with her fierce and
Wisdom is married
to knowledge. Though she
holds all the degrees,
she doesn’t assert herself
against pretenders. Wisdom
outshine the imposters,
but she does outlive them.
Wisdom kisses love, joy, and peace.
Wisdom dines on patience, kindness, and goodness.
Wisdom wears faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
as quiet as a heartbeat,
as sweet as a hug after a loss,
and as gentle as a bell of mercy.
She listens more than she speaks,
but when she talks,
those close to her
sit up and listen and she spreads.
When necessary she thunderously
proclaims truth from the peaks
and topples over tables of injustice.
Wisdom leans on the
moral arc of the universe
and brings justice just a little nearer.
That question that haunts me to my very core,
the one I avoid.
The one that I shove back
into the depths of my ugly heart
And don’t let it surface.
But others dig deep and have been
doing so this week.
Susan inspired you yesterday.
Angie’s prompt reminded you today.
These and others have asked tough questions.
Why don’t you too, Denise?
Speak it, repent, reframe the question.
Not today. Maybe
Hate is the country with such a long scar
We dole out death sentences far
From courts of law
White power, our flaw –Street-selling loose cigarettes, death
–Holding a sandwich taken as a threat, death
–Not signaling when moving to the right, death
–Using a bad twenty or having lofty height, death
–Going to the car wash with your new ride, death
–Eating ice cream where you abide, death
–Even sleeping in your own abode, death
Remember their names and the code: Eric Garner
The code of hatred: White supremacy
Hope: Dismantle the enemy
My inspiration came from this Instagram post I saw this morning
Yes, I do want a chocolate-coated,
date-filled cookie, thank you.
Maamouls–a Ramadan gift from
my husband’s co-worker.
I take the wrapper off
and bite into the buttery goodness.
I take another.
How about some chocolate-covered hazelnuts?
Turkish delight and pasta flora?
Gifts of love from my friend.
The pounds I lost last year
are staging a comeback.
The earthquake trembles under my feet,
not from the San Andreas,
but from my own faults.
Remembering when my seven-year-old
“embarrasses” me at Costco.
The middle-aged woman beside us–
intent on rifling through the mom tees–
hasn’t even noticed the child’s faux pas.
(What actually is the little girl’s blunder?)
But because Mom insists,
I’ve seen my faults shock and shake.
Ode to Grilled Cheese
How glorious are your
strings of goodness,
golden globs of
thick slices of
buttered and sizzling
in the pan,
crispy and brown,
becoming one with the
You are a wonder.
Today I noticed details–
Like the smell of the cardamom
And saffron in my milky tea,
And the way the young mother
Stooped over again to retrieve
The blue binky for the
delighted warm baby,
who was the clear leader
in this game of fetch.
I noticed how much
I don’t like to wear lipstick, but not
Until I was able to stop
And put on a mask instead.
My one lipstick, already years old,
may last another decade at this rate.
I was never able to notice how much I liked to cook,
until I moved into my home last March.
It’s the same flat I had slept in for six years,
but I finally began to live here.
Now I cook, I plan, I write, I read,
I smile, I laugh, I listen, I pray
in this place.
I’m no longer a whirlwind of anxiety
about the next
for which I need to run out the door.
I never knew how much
I needed more peace in my living,
But now I know.
I never knew how much I appreciated
noticing these things until I joined
other teacher-poets in this
in the April of Covid, 2020.
I didn’t know how much
I loved poetry,
But now I know.
Thank you, friends.
Psalm 58 – A Prayer for God to Punish the Wicked
Do you rulers ever give a just decision?
Do you judge everyone fairly?
No! You think only of the evil you can do,
and commit crimes of violence in the land.
Evildoers go wrong all their lives;
they tell lies from the day they are born.
They are full of poison like snakes;
they stop up their ears like a deaf cobra,
which does not hear the voice of the snake charmer,
or the chant of the clever magician.
Break the teeth of these fierce lions, O God.
May they disappear like water draining away;
may they be crushed like weeds on a path.
May they be like snails that dissolve into slime;
may they be like a baby born dead that never sees the light.
Before they know it, they are cut down like weeds;
in his fierce anger God will blow them away
while they are still living.
The righteous will be glad when they see sinners punished;
they will wade through the blood of the wicked.
People will say, “The righteous are indeed rewarded;
there is indeed a God who judges the world.”
My 21st Century Mirror of Vengeance
I learned something about God from this poem,
placed in the good book, and read for eons.
God must have invited
people to speak their truth,
not to hide their emotions,
“break their teeth”
“blow them away like weeds”
“dissolve them like salt on a slug”
there was no need to
take vengeance in
their own hands and do violence.
“Give it to me,” God said, “I’ll take it from here.”
So, I wait and pray:
We’ve got some unjust and evil
people with power
who still need their teeth broken, God.
I couldn’t get the photo I wrote about out of my mind all day. It’s the last one on the Glimpses of Grief and Resilience article in National Geographic. “This picture reminds me that domestic violence doesn’t start with bruises on the skin, domestic violence begins with words and takes many forms,” says photographer Irina Unruh. (I also alluded to Jenny in Forrest Gump, Jeremiah 6:14, and a reprise of this week’s shadow and mask poems.)
Pray with me
away from here
Poison pulsing through the air,
Trampling and suffocating,
Cruelly wounded by words,
only to have them
“Let’s go for a drive, baby,
you know I don’t mean it.”
He speaks peace
where there is no peace
Masked by the thing with wings
Little glimpses of hope
Glittering in the sunshine
Come soon, Promise,
For she is still
Hidden in the shadow
Of the pandemic
Speech to the Spenders; Speech to Those Sinking Our Planet
Say to them,
Say to the private profit proliferators,
the conspicuous consumers,
and the empty souls needing something,
yet settling for stuff,
“More is not always better.”
Buying that thing will not satisfy your longings.
Try thrifting or bartering.
Wear out the one you already have.
Dig deep and see what’s really missing.
Free yourself by giving freely.
I Don’t Want to Be a Porcelain Bowl
I don’t want to be a
bowl of porcelain–
and fully fragile.
I don’t want to be displayed
shamelessly on a
shelf, waiting in the shadows,
perfect but untried.
Smooth and without character.
I want to be a Kintsugi bowl,
flawed and fully fractured,
beautiful in my brokenness.
Scars and wounds do not
imply defect, but they
are the rich
wounded suffering, and
Even the author of
unabashedly chose to
His scars on.
I’ve had George Floyd on my mind all week. I watched and read the transcript of his encounter with the police. He was scared, not scary. And then there was the Filipino-American who was attacked in New York. My God, save us. When Stacey shared the list of metaphorical shadows, I was drawn to this verse in Psalm 91, which has always been a favorite of mine. Yet, today I wonder if it’s easier for me to believe God’s protective wings cover me because I don’t have to fear for my life because of my color.
He who lives in the secret place of the Most High Shall stay under the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1
Safe in Heaven’s Abode Direct and Omnipresent Word
How do people of color in these
divided states get
to that secret Safe place?
Away from knees on their necks
and hate crimes against their very personhood?
Is God there in Heaven’s
reach? Is there an Abode
for all? Create a just and verdant place, God,
shady with your big wings’ protection.
Stir up good trouble– Direct distress for us who feel
worthy in our whiteness.
Bring new Omnipresent
Truth in Minneapolis and
beyond. Word of God,
shine in the darkness.
Today is April 1. It is the first day of National Poetry Month. I am excited to Write, Read and Care with a lot of other passionate teachers. I plan to write my first drafts here on this blog post, and then copy and paste it onto a comment on each day’s prompt at the Ethical ELA site. Do please give it a try and join us!
Spirit of ’76 Grad and first time voter–
With a month to spare, I was
Eligible to vote in my first presidential election
I registered as an independent
Jimmy Carter earned my vote
That was an easy choice even for
a teen who cared more about getting a date with
Rick than about politics
But I did notice Watergate and a pardon,
Gerald Ford didn’t stand a chance, I thought
I continued through the years as an independent–
always looking at the two candidates
voting at times for Republicans,
other times for Democrats
When Obama was running in 2008, though– Yes, we can! Hope! I was enthralled.
I went out and changed my 30-year independent
status to Democrat, so I could caucus for
Obama in Iowa.
After the caucus, I went straight back
to being Independent.
I always thought there was strength in
I was proud to be discerning, diplomatic Denise
I saw both sides. I was a good listener
and autonomous thinker.
Presidential elections are personal,
aren’t they? I didn’t want the party to decide.
I wanted to decide for myself.
When trump came down the garish escalator
in 2015 and spoke of Mexicans the way he did,
I couldn’t believe he didn’t get ostracized and
chased away from the process.
Republicans ate it up
and he ate up their souls
Somewhere during that primary season,
I became a
Democrat for good.
The Holy Bible,
MAGA Version, 2020,
A Bible chock-full of capsized values for:
The power-hungry court packers
Those in fear of losing white power
Those who have ‘Merica confused with the Kingdom of God
Those whose guns are heavier than their God
Those who demand religious exemptions for loving and serving others
Despite that word adulterated–this version
has nothing to do with adults
but is babyish and petty at best
At its worst it exists to
usurp divine authority in order to
promote white supremacy
The MAGA version follows
in a long line of
Slavery version, 1850
Anti-science version, 1925
Jim Crow version, 1950
Moral Majority version, 1979 (Actually a de facto fight for the Revised Jim Crow version, but conveniently touted as anti-abortion in order to protect themselves from impropriety)
Tea Party version, 2010
My own personalized
often needs to be
plucked out as well
Purged and replaced with
The real Word of God
Breath of Heaven
Word made flesh
Lived among us
Killed by false translations of his day
Died to love us
Her first move, she was just over one year old. She had no idea on that drive from Iowa to Michigan that her dad had added an extra three-hours to the all-night journey when he followed the road signs to Council Bluffs instead of Dubuque after dinner in Des Moines. She slept peacefully through it all in the car seat. When she woke up, the box of tissue entertained her throughout the early morning traffic in Chicago. She tossed each Kleenex whimsically throughout the backseat for an early snowfall while Dad took his turn sleeping on the camping mattress in the back of the pickup.
Four years later we did it again. Busy selling our winter gear at the thousand-dollar yard sale, we prepared to leave Michigan for Phoenix. She looked up and saw her big yellow school bus neglectfully leaving her behind. Marcus later told her he was afraid she was sick. “Mom, there goes the bus!” We raced into the house and got ready, driving to afternoon kindergarten. I stood outside Mrs. Bigler’s classroom and cried like a baby as I explained why we were late. This experienced kindergarten teacher tried to cheer the young mother, “Don’t worry. It’s only October. She will forget about us and just have memories of her new class.” What? That offered no comfort.
A few days later, she and I were sitting in the bathroom. She sobbing and me trying to find a quiet place to console her where we wouldn’t wake the household of new friends who were accommodating us until our house was ready. At home, on this Saturday morning, the sun was shining and the pancakes would have been on the griddle, but in this new time zone, it was an unearthly hour for crying. She wrote me a note with a blue crayon, “Keep Marcus.” I joined her in sobbing.
And then we moved again. This time after she finished her freshman year in high school of all indefensible decisions. My husband tells people she never forgave us for that move. But she did, at least outwardly, formally. We took her from Arizona back to Iowa, the town of her birth. The girl, who later became her best high school friend, at one time was a baby she had seen-not-seen at the doctor’s office when both of their mom’s held each other’s hands as they waited their turn to have their two-month-olds inoculated. Fifteen years after the shots, she did fine in her new high school. She joined cross country, drama, speech, quiz bowl, debate. She took AP classes and had some great experiences. At least I try to convince myself she did.
Before too long it was time for college. She packed her bags and hardly looked back. Sailing club on Lake Michigan, knitting club, including late night practice sessions and chats in dorm rooms with new lifelong friends, service and volunteer work, excellent success in classes. I asked her that Christmas, “How are you doing it? You are rocking your first year of college!” My firstborn’s answer stung but didn’t surprise. “I left home three years ago.”
I wrote poetry with a group at Ethical ELA. The teachers and other writers are amazingly supportive. In this running April 2020 post, I added each day’s poem throughout the month. The poetry challenge will continue five days each month beginning 16-20 May 2020.
Writing with #Verselove
Thank you, mentors
Thank God for writing
Hearts of longing
Hearts of healing
Brokenness once unspoken
Brokenness poured out in poetry
Poetry of triumph
Poetry of laughter
Laughter in knowing
Laughter in tears
Tears of renewal
Tears of cleansing
Cleaning from old hurts
Cleansing like therapy
Therapy of self-awareness
Therapy of celebration
Celebration of spoken words
Celebration of written words
Words like treasures
Words like flowers
Flowers of magic
Flowers of moods
Moods to relay
Moods to wander
Wander not aimlessly
Wander to ponder
Existence of whispers
Existence of universal truths
Truths to craft in form
Truths to craft freely
Freely speaking our hearts
Freely reading one another
Another day passed
Another poem written
Written in quiet
Written in embrace
Embrace our new friends
Embrace our sure future
Future of hope
Future of #verselove
And another thankful poem I wrote earlier in the month:
An Ode to #Verselove Poets
To my friends:
When I write these it doesn’t mean
I don’t love your poems,
that I’m not truly touched.
But come on, Denise,
that’s all you write.
You are 62 years old.
Learn some precise language
for speaking about what you mean.
How about using a thesaurus?
got me dealing with my own feelings
wisdom from you, my mentors
composing that closing
With your words
my soul you’re jabbing
my heart you’re stabbing
my mind you’re grabbing
my eyes I’m dabbing
Your poems are cathartic
for the arctic
sea in me
reminding me of open wounds
yet to be restored when
given your remedy
A Limerick of My Writing Journey
Wield a half millimeter black roller ball
Indite in my journal, whatever befall
Mind focused on prompt
Diversions I’ll stomp
And tomorrow I’ll pen an overhaul
A List Poem About Why That Limerick is a Lie
While writing it, I…
…answered a teacher query about post-Eid assessment changes
…recorded four Flipgrid video responses
…initiated family trivia night
…answered six What’s App texts
…and two phone calls
…warmed up and ate leftover machboos
…browsed The Washington Post
…watched my husband play a video game
…worked on my genius hour presentation
time…none like the present
8:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., midnight, 3:00 a.m.
tools…any or all
my rollerball is probably lost, so grab a pencil or a conference freebie ball point or my computer
topics…prompts and non-prompts
letters, emails, recipes, students’ feedback, texts, poems, blog posts, lesson plans
In reality, I cannot articulate my writing process.
Them: Too much experience, grad degree
That puts you here on the salary scale
Me: Can we negotiate?
After several interviews like this
I was frustrated, feeling useless
What else would I do?
My mom’s message to me,
a still, small voice,
restoring me and giving me hope:
“You are a treasure waiting to be discovered.”
Like a fortune cookie with a purpose.
Soon after, I received a teaching job,
for the little rural Catholic school
that needed teachers, even Protestants,
and couldn’t afford to pay much–
a junior high ELA teacher
with experience and an MA
The morning after, and for seven years
before coming to Bahrain,
I felt like a treasure
Officer, sheriff, CHP captain
Taught me to swim by throwing me in
He was a father fill-in and when I moved across the country for a boy, he
Even offered me a return ticket just in case
Remembering him today
Responsible, teacher and
Officer in the union
Though we caterwauled and clashed in free-for-alls,
He finally grew bigger, so I stopped beating him up. Today, we
Enjoy friendship and fellowship
Rejoicing today that I have him
Bookend brothers–or the capital letter and period of our
Reed sibling sentence.
One, the oldest twin, the other,
The sweet and welcome baby boy after five girls.
Helpers in their careers and families. He was
Elder by 18 years, so
Rick had a special bond with Keith, but
Suddenly, in 2012, Rick’s heart failed and our sentence faltered.
Four Things I’d Say to People Who Are Afraid of Their Spice Cabinet
1 – I used to be too, using cinnamon and basil and oregano and salt and pepper.
When I felt exotic I’d add a pinch of cumin and a smidgen of chili powder. Nothing louder than what you’d find in a steaming bowl of chowder, though.
2 – Then I got older and bolder and experimented. I always loved to eat savory, flavory dishes, so why not recreate them in my kitchen? I can try. And try I do now because you see.
3 – My spices are becoming a touchstone for me. I look in my cupboard and see so many jars of hope, flavors brimming, ideas bubbling, whole leaves, pods, seeds, some crushed and powdered, as the hours are in my life. My time is limited in this place, in Bahrain where the flavors are exquisite and the spices are pennies. My time is limited on this earth. My time is limited in the kitchen, So,
4 – I want to use every hour, every recipe, every moment, every meal to the fullest. To the tastiest. To the joyful hope of a new beginning.
Whose Job is More Important?
the first time I was confronted
with the idea that
I was half an orphan
the assignment was an essay
in third grade
“Whose job is more important–Mother’s or Father’s?”
Well, I penned my composition,
Of course, it was my mother’s job
that was most consequential,
most conspicuous at least
making a coat for me at Christmas
At that time, I had no idea who
had picked up the pieces
of my missing father’s job.
Yes, it was Mother’s job
I compelled and convinced myself
What else could a girl without a father conclude?
Jacob and Rachel–
My husband’s favorite analogy
“Seven years I had to wait for Denise”
Now I know what I didn’t know then.
I could have given myself advice:
At 18 Keith is going to ask you to marry him
Let him down easy
You both still have growing up to do
And in 7 years time
you’ll ask him back
Standing in his kitchen
on the 14th of February
He, sick in his brown fuzzy bath robe
You, saying I’m ready
We’re going on four decades now
We’ve said over the years without those 7 years
We would not be together today.
7 years became a gift of a lifetime
Here is a season that knows it is going to lose the fight.
One day a breeze blows in the twilight,
almost breathing a bit of chill from the Saudi peninsula.
Another one has a humid breeze from the south east
soaking up the water from the Arabian Gulf,
pouring it on the island.
Not in rain, but in oppressive heaviness.
In April there is an angry dance,
One, lovely springtime weather, warm and welcome.
The dance partner, summer day, is a bully–stifling and scorching.
Dominant and tormenting summer.
An unbreakable building, building.
Heat dome lying heavy and unmovable.
Over the Middle East there are no Canadian cold fronts
providing relief for a day or two
Summer in all its oppression will win
At fifteen, you will be in grade 10, with a new stylish haircut and feeling on top of the world.
You will be dreamily thinking about Steve T. and John B. while you sit in accounting class.
Really, why are you in that class? Get up now and go sign up for Algebra.
At fifteen you will dance with Steve, but that’s all, so quit daydreaming.
You will try out for cheerleading, but you won’t make it.
So, pick yourself up and know that everything will be OK.
At fifteen, you will think you want to follow in your sisters’ footsteps and be a secretary.
It’s okay, you haven’t had many role models, but believe it or not, you will get a BA and an MA.
So, get to that Algebra class and take some AP courses while you’re at it.
At fifteen you will think the world revolves around your reputation at school.
Don’t worry, everyone else thinks the same thing and aren’t paying attention to you.
Know that this too will pass and there is another world where all that doesn’t matter.
At fifteen you think you know it all.
At fifteen you don’t know much.
At fifteen you will be forgiven.
Carry on, you make it to 16 and even 61.
One day at a time.
Hey, friend, what are you up to?
Compost stew? Oh, that makes me smile.
Yes, not a pile
Organic bits simmering true.
It’s a stew.
Sent fresh from Mama Earth to you.
Fertile soil, a promise redeemed
“Be fruitful, tender earth,” God beamed.
Compost stew! Yes, not a pile. It’s a stew.
Having a pot of karak tea with you
is more comforting than
the sound and depth of James’ Earl Jones’ voice
the feeling and chills I get when someone plays with my hair
a frosty glass of water after working in the yard
cozying up with a warm, fluffy blanket
the sound of rain, gentle on a tin roof
the smells of fresh bread and rich earth
the throaty full crooning of Gordon Lightfoot
the sight of seeing you come through the door
and joining me at the table in Naseef’s
(when we no longer need to have virtual tea parties)
which is why I’m telling you about it
(Incorporating Robert Frost “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”)
My nightmare is when imperative
To-Do Lists are not done
1) Turn in grades
2) Contact parents with missing assignments (Before #1)
3) Rewrite two virtual entrance exams
4) Write my lesson plan so it can be sent out virtually by 6 pm
5) Prepare for Teach Meet tomorrow.
6) Make a Flipgrid video sample for my students.
My favorite items on the to-do list
1) Write a poem on EthicalELA.
2) Comment on my fellow poets’ work
Didn’t make the cut
The nightmares are ruthless, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Where I Am From
I am from fresh fruit,
from milk in glass bottles delivered to the porch,
always available, and
Smirnoff’s in the cupboard,
for only my dad to reach.
I am from the white stucco tract house
with green shutters
and seven kids (brimming, entangled,
trying to fit into the puzzle)
I am from the sweet guava tree
in the neighbor’s yard offering
for those brave enough to climb.
I’m from camping in rugged Yellowstone
and big smiling teeth,
from Virginia and Richard
I’m from the put-on-a-happy-face and be-cute-at-all-costs family.
From “Clean your plate so the neighbors don’t think we’re starving you,” and
“Come home when the street lights turn on.”
I’m from real Jesus, not rubber Jesus,
and a grandma who helped me understand.
I’m Heinz 57,
from Ohio, on one side,
Texas and Georgia, on the other, some
went west with the railroad and made it to California.
I am from cornbread, pinto beans, macaroni and cheese and enchiladas.
I am from the birth of Scotty, my first nephew full of rubella birth defects
and Aunt Thelma, who made everyone laugh and always had See’s candy.
Photos were stored casually in cardboard boxes in my mother’s closet,
scattered memories, remnants of love and doing our best.
No Hand Shakes
A Hunger Games salute
High five across two meters
Say hello, goodbye, good morning
Smize–smile with your eyes under your mask
Shoulder, hip or foot shakes — just no handshakes
Today I noticed
my sweet basil plant
dying in Bahrain.
Try as I might,
I can’t grow it here
It brought me back to a
better basil time
a summer in Iowa when
I had a basil bush—
exuberant and enormous,
verdant and lush,
nourishing my pride
as a gardener.
So much life
so it demanded to be brought
inside for the winter.
I stuck the shovel in
and carefully pulled out a
of silky clay loam,
the black earth
hugging the roots
of my prodigious prize.
I brought it indoors
in a hulk of a pot
and it satisfied us all winter.
As spring approached
I decided instead of one plant
that next summer
I needed a whole flowerbed
filled with sweet basil.
I clipped and trimmed, and
rooted a dozen-and-a-half
successors, so my
fine plant’s posterity was assured.
I carefully planted each one
giving them plenty of space
to later fill-in
and take over the bed
under our kitchen window.
A year’s feasting forthcoming!
basil butter on garlic toast
broccoli basil soup
tomato, basil & mushroom frittata
cucumber- and basil-infused water
An ekphrastic poem is written in response to a scene or work of art. I used this image from feminist.org. I did a Fib poem and reverse: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21,13, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1, 1.
You wouldn’t believe
What we done made of this country
Slavery gone, racism stayed to our core, women vote,
But Hillary, Kamela, and Elizabeth are all shut down by 2020
You don’t want to know about 46-1
I won’t even go there, my friend
It is not pretty
Glad I don’t
My friend sits over the flame
filled with sweet milky goodness
Both arms faithfully rigid
One points down like the arm of the driver
without functioning break lights
That one arm,
though the color of a stop sign,
Does not say, halt,
It says, drink up, dear
The other arm up,
hand held high,
waits to pour out
libations of luxury
in the morning
a long long time ago
he was 43 years old
the devil’s only friend
the day the music died
he was singing
too many kids to feed
too many emotions to weed
bye bye cigarettes
bye bye vodka
before they married
his widowed bride
was blind to
all the minor keys
in which he played
a telling overture of the whole
rhythm and blues opera
what would an
maybe it was the
seven kids lost in space
trying not to misstep
bad news on the doorstep
they turned out nice
not into vice
stayed out of jail
tried not to fail
cute at all costs
not too many lost
to dysfunction with alcohol
when promoted to chp captain
watched him on the stage
hands clenched in fists of rage
do you think dad would be proud yet
“Your girls have such big teeth!”
was giving my mom a compliment.
My teenage sisters looked at her–
eye rolls postponed until after the goodbyes–
And smiled fakely,
light glinting off the
three piano keyboards,
minus the sharps and flats.)
These Reed teeth
Dominate the genes
Because the next generation
was also initiated into
the big teeth club.
An indelible image
comes to mind:
My daughter’s first dental x-ray
“What is this?” I asked, pointing.
The dentist, not alarmed,
“A secondary incisor,
Her front tooth.
Is that how Reed teeth look in a three-year-old?
Those front teeth were like
masked, menacing miscreants,
lying in wait to strike. How can we stop the invasion? I wondered.
“Aren’t they too big?” I asked.
“She’ll grow into them.”
Sigh of relief.
Staff of life
Loaves freshly baked
Multi grain, whole wheat
Sour dough, comforting white
Not just loaves, but bagels, naan,
Muffins, sweet bread, pancakes, corn bread,
Tortillas, chapati, ciabatta
How many pounds and breads before we’re done?
Yearner of joy
Yearner of purpose
Purpose in knowing
Purpose in giving
Giving to others
Myself even when a mess
Myself even when incomplete
Incomplete in this life
Alone but longing to be together
Alone but able to think
Think of the future
Think of joy
Joy that we are not alone
Joy in humanity
Humanity comes out
Humanity grows in crisis
Crisis of enemies
Crisis of belief
Belief in the good of others
Belief in benevolent leaders
Leaders who can be trusted
Leaders who earn our trust
Trust in leaders
Trust only in God
God who is Bread of Life
God who is Water
Cleansing our souls
Cleansing our thoughts
Thoughts of fear
Thoughts of escape
Escape from the unknown
Escape from the solitude
Solitude has its perks
Solitude becomes old
Old as fear
Old as joy
Joy in the Garden
Joy at the empty tomb
Tomb of life
Tomb of Rising
Rising on Easter
Rising for us