Silver linings and Full Moons

Lone Tree Full Moon Until I turned 38, writing was an untapped secondary talent. I had been a typesetter and formatted a few novels, I had been a sales clerk in a men’s store, and I had been an electronics tech in the US Navy.

I was a poet and had been writing poetry since I was nine years old. It was more in the style of Robert Frost. So I was still an apprentice of poetry when I decided to finish my degree. After the first two classes at University of Maryland University College–European division (yes, they called it UMUC for short or running amok was the students’ favorite saying), I realized that I had a talent for organizing words on the page. I was writing two papers a semester for English literature and one paper for German History which helped me to finally became confident with my writing. While I was there, I published a lot of poetry and had my first short story published in Bibliophilos.

In these years I began studying different forms of poetry. I tried my hand at sonnets, haiku, villanelles, and other styles. I would read poetry from poets like Auden, Basho, and others. I would study what they did and how they phrased their ideas.

Then my style began to emerge. I learned to take the word “me” out of the poetry. I learned that when I was observing something and describing it, that I didn’t have to moralize. The reader would see what I had to say. or not. Sometimes they saw more than I did and sometimes less. It didn’t matter because when I wrote, my main goal was to evoke a feeling.

Then I became ill and my entire world changed.

When I wrote this poem, I was in a hospital bed and couldn’t move. My husband wrote it down for me as I dictated it to him. Even when I thought I was near the end, I was writing poetry. This is the poem.

Jesus Wept

Your tears well
down granite cheeks—

splash the curve
of your neck.

My tongue licks
the holy elixir.

Corn silk sprouts
at my feet.
I came back to a second life. It was a life where I had to fight for every memory and the ability to think. From 2003 to 2009, I wrote little sentences and paragraphs. I wrote for  Helium, a now dead online magazine. I started small and once again I had to learn how to think and to write. I learned plot and characters. It wasn’t as easy this time.

So here I am with a second life and with thyroid cancer, maybe I am embarking on a third life. I hope it is full of color.

Sidewalk art

Blue green, blue violet, carnation pink
lemon yellow, orange red, raw sienna
drawn and melted on the front sidewalk–

a masterpiece of childhood–
stick figures, block houses, round tree tops
four-leaf clovers, flowers, and yellow bees

I was caught crayon handed.

soap, tears, and scrub brushes
hands scraped and bleeding
the offending colors erased
She said: Next time use chalk

It was the last time I made
a mark on the world–

If you’d like to read more of my poetry, here is Outside my Window and Sonnet Playground.

I almost forgot A Flicker of Hope.

Story vs. Academic

Sonnet Playground coverMy first experiment into writing besides the elementary school papers on “saving the environment” was poetry. I edited my first poem when I was ten years old. My grandfather had written a beautiful poem, but after I read it, I asked him where the rest of the poem was. He agreed that it was unfinished. Several months later he sent me the poem with an additional verse for my review.

I cut my teeth on limericks in fifth grade and I have been writing form and free verse poetry ever since.

Incidentally, the only reason I wrote the “saving the environment” paper was because of the prize and the praise. Yes, I won that prize because I used the passenger pigeons as a metaphor for what can happen when we don’t moderate our actions. If you don’t know, passenger pigeons are now extinct.

When I began writing stories instead of telling them, I found that this style writing was totally different. I could break grammar rules judiciously. There was a story arc. Plus characters were not caricatures of people. The best writing was when a character had a problem and did its best to solve that problem.

As I jumped into the world of story writing, I couldn’t use shortcuts like I did with poetry or even academic writing. I couldn’t just state the problem and tell the audience how the problem was solved. I had to get into the character’s head and then solve the problem as the character. I couldn’t hand-puppet the solution.

Here is where it gets mystical and dimensional. You may have listened to writers talk about their characters. As a non-writer, you probably think the writer is two minutes away from an insane asylum. Yes, we can sound a little out there sometimes.

There are a couple types of writers– those who can outline their story and characters and those who cannot. Those who cannot are either really good or really bad– and if they keep writing and progressing become gateway writers. So what is a gateway writer? Well, they are walking the edge of the real and the void every day.

They are the writers that say that the characters were mulish and refused to solve a situation the way the writer thought they should. This type of writer starts talking about how a character takes on a life of its own. Sometimes there is a rawness to their writing that hits the reader viscerally.

Writers that outline sometimes do better and learn faster than the gateway writers. There is no right way — just the way that works for the writer.

But even the outline writers who have gotten really good in the craft of writing will talk about being haunted by their characters.

So as a beginning writer, (I wish someone had told me this when I wrote my first story), use the five senses for describing the character and the situation, study the story arc, and watch people.

There are more moving parts to storytelling than to an academic paper– which makes writing story a whole new adventure.

At the restaurant

two tables down
a large family
father rocking the baby
in his arms

women talk
children buzz around them
the talk never quits
as they eat their meal

a table across the room
an old man and woman
quietly eat
look into each other’s eyes
and then down again

What would you like to eat
the waitress interrupts

I order
then watch her dance
around the tables
talking to the new friends
she had just met

How many of these people
have dinners around a table
talk and discuss their days
or does it only happen now
at the restaurant

 

This poem was first published on Helium, September 3, 2013.

Monkey mind and the last poem of April

This year I wrote my poems of April on a discussion forum with one of my early friends.  Chrissie’s poems were also in the chapbook Inside Out. So when I had a chance to write with a bunch of poets I leaped at the chance. This poem shows how my mind works when I am writing a poem, hence monkey mind.

Here is my last poem of April 2014:

Monkey mind and the last poem of April

The sun shone overhead
or should I say rays or shine
maybe the sun rose
above mountains or hills

the wind rustled the leaves
did it blow, or did it whip
is rustle even an action?

chickadees nested
these birds are probably
ready to throw out the little chicks
the chirps are insane
and feeding the empty gullets

Spring had come
to our high desert home
since this is the last poem
do I need to add smells

the skunk family poked their noses
out holes in the fence
should aroma and skunk
be in the same sentence
would readers really like
to smell roses instead?

Erase. Start over.

Siren’s Call

Sorry for the late post–

her gown flows around her
glimpses of breast and thigh
her smile entices
you follow her
to a room of silk and jewels

a push upon the bed
like foam, it encases you
she gently takes the armor
from your body
shhhh, she says

float into the music–
duty, honor, family
mean nothing
stay and feel my pleasures
of food, body, and soul

unlike Odysseus
you were not tied to a mast
you did not plug your ears–
for these mistakes
you drown in the siren’s call