Posts Tagged 'Poetry'

Elie Wiesel’s DAWN, my Tears, and a Baby’s Smile

Dear Reader,

The words of the novel Dawn, by Elie Wiesel, affected me as much, or more, than its content. As in Night, Wiesel writes with pointed prose, much the way a poet does. There are no superfluous words. There is only repetition with purpose. His sentences are taut but not tight. His poetry invites me to participate in his narrator’s disgust, struggle, fear, and forced numbness. He asked that I sob with his victim’s good humor even though he has no idea why he is supposed to die.

I did what he asked.  And tears fell on the baby in my arms, my 3-month old granddaughter.  She looked into my eyes and smiled.


Earth Day Poetry: “Everything Turns” by Faye Quam

Dear Reader,

April 22nd is Earth Day, so I thought I’d honor the day by posting “Everything Turns,” my poem that arose from a tactile fantasy about the earth surrounding Rutland, North Dakota, earth my great grandmother used to farm. It’s sensuously fertile, this earth, and I want to plunge my hands into it until I’m up to my armpits in its cool, luscious blackness.

I can’t break Colorado earth with a spade, much less my hands. It’s stubborn, clay hardness, survival in little rainfall; it’s beautiful in a way. But this poem isn’t about North Dakota or Colorado earth; it’s about indulging my fantasy.

Everything Turns

Green crumbles to fall dry

I bend to brush it from

my shoes, but something seizes

my fingertips, insists I burrow

nose and nail through damp

clay, sand, foundation rock

Wrists, armpits, and navel wriggle

Thighs, shins, tips of toes slither

deep then dead-drop to where

dark mixes with day, ice spins

to heat, to where hair dissolves

into water, into before and after

Everything turns a slow turn until

spring’s sun resurrects me with

clumped dirt filling my mouth, with

root arms embracing my waist, with

a pussywillow plume brushing

my chin as it flies north.

This poem appears in Scarf Dancer: Poems & Other Writing.signature11

Other-Meaning-Ness and Robert Bly’s Poem “Prophets”

Dear Reader,

Please read the following poem by Robert Bly.


There are fields of white roses

with prophets asleep in them—

I see their long black feet.

Please read it again, this time out loud. Done? Okay. Now, without thinking, tell me what it means. Hey! I said without thinking. Stuck? At a loss for words? If so, I’m pleased. Why? Because “Prophets” means nothing other than what it means: 20 syllables, or 17 words, or 3 lines arranged in a specific order. It means nothing? How is this possible? Because this poem taps readers where words don’t live, where it’s indefinable. It taps imagination or emotions or senses or….

It taps my imagination so I see curvaceously soft whiteness and thickly lopsided exclamation points. I don’t see a field of white roses with prophets asleep in them—but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. It also taps my senses/emotions, I’m not sure which it is. I feel its meaning in my chest when the words push against my sternum and expand me. It has “other-meaning-ness.”


Let me explain. I use Bly’s poem and the idea of “other-meaning-ness” not to make another “I-don’t-get-it” exercise, but to encourage you to trust your nonword responses to poems. If you read poems you’re sure you don’t like, I urge you not to try to like them, not to tell yourself that you’d like them if you were smarter. Also, if you read something you think is amazing, please don’t talk yourself out of your opinion. Hold on to your amazement. You’re entitled to it. 

“Prophets” appears in This Tree Will Be Here For A Thousand Years, by Robert Bly, NY: Harper & Row, 1979.


J. Diego Frey “Takes” On William Carlos Williams

Dear Reader,

Have you read J. Diego Frey’s new volume of poetry, Umbrellas Or Else? Not yet? Well then, I suggest you get right on it, because the experience is so fun it makes you want to dump your vocabulary on the playroom floor and start building poems with it. I mean it.

Now, I could go on and on about Frey’s poems, but today I want to on just one, “Re: The Cupcakes,” a loving take on William Carlos Williams’ poem “This Is Just To Say.” Here’s Williams’ poem.

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

And here’s Frey’s poem. (Reprinted with the poet’s permission.)

Re: The Cupcakes

I found

perched furtively

in your top

left-hand desk drawer

I have eaten them

they were delicious

though frosting

stuck to plastic

Please forgive me

as they were in

the way of

the Paterson file


Doesn’t it make you want to build your own version of Williams’ poem? Hmmm… I wonder how it would adapt to the last olive stuffed with blue cheese, or a sliver of French silk pie.


Emissions, Sneers, and Robert Frost

Dear Reader,

When I stepped into the waiting room at the emissions testing center, the couple’s hatred blindsided me. “Look at him,” the man said, sneering through a window at the employee revving up the woman’s muscle car. “He should be on ‘America’s Biggest Loser’ He’s gotta weigh at least 350.” The woman whined, “He’ll rip my leather.”

I stomach ached for that employee. He was fat, and these awful people hated him for it.

“This is a fiasco,” the man started. “Why can’t he pull the car up to the next station then walk back to get the next car? I mean, why does someone have to drive it away from him? Can’t he move that far?”

I wanted to say, “Why don’t you shut up. You’re making me sick.” But I didn’t have the nerve. Instead, I pulled from my bag the only book I had with me, A Pocket Book of Robert Frost’s Poems, and began to read the first poem to which I opened: “Two Tramps in Mud Time.”

Out of the mud two strangers came

And caught me splitting wood in the yard.

And one of them put me off my aim

By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”

I knew pretty well why he dropped behind

And let the other go on a way.

I knew pretty well what he had in mind:

He wanted to take my job for pay….

The couple’s voices pressed for my attention. “An inefficient fiasco,” the man said. “This is typical, typical government waste.” And I again wanted to speak: “This place is privately owned, idiot.” But I continued to read.

Nothing on either side was said.

They knew they had but to stay their stay

And all their logic would fill my head:

As that I had no right to play

With what was another man’s work for gain

[they were probably out-of-work lumberjacks].

My right might be love but theirs was need.

And where the two exist in twain

Theirs was the better right―agreed.

Frost’s poem became my “human” shield, and the couple’s spurned hatred was sucked away with the exhaust fumes.

But yield who will to their separation,

My object in living is to unite

My avocation and vocation

As my two eyes make one sight.

Only where love and need are one,

And the work is play for mortal stakes,

Is the deed ever really done

For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Out of the mud two strangers came.


Poet Carolyn Jennings’ New Year’s Poem Letter

Dear Reader,

I received the best ever New Year’s letter; not your usual New Year’s letter, not a “look-what-my-kids-accomplished-and-I’ll-bet-it-makes-you-feel-inadequate” letter, or an “all-the-places-to-which-I-traveled-while-you-were-stuck-in-a-rut” letter, or even a “Bert-had-his-gall-bladder-removed-but-his-gout-is-improving” letter, but poet Carolyn Jennings’ “The Soft Heart of Hard Times” poem letter. An “it-takes-more-than-a-stroke-to-squelch-a-sense-of-humor” well-written letter. With Carolyn’s help, there’s hope for future letters like these.

Carolyn has graciously given me permission to share her poem as my New Year’s gift to you.


When my husband’s mother had a stroke,

much that had once seemed her

was gone. She has learned to walk again—

not fast, not far. She has learned to talk

again—not stories, not  memories.

She no longer whips up batches of fudge

before our visits, doesn’t shop the catalogs

for months before Christmas for the grandkids,

won’t be sewing stockings by hand and can’t zip

together the turkey feast that filled holidays

and the entire dining table, all the leafs added.

Last Christmas my father-in-law helped her to the table

where my husband cut her slice of turkey into bite-size pieces.

We call on Sunday afternoons. Most of the talk

is ours. Her sentences dangle unfinished.

But “thank you” and “wonderful” dance

through almost every line she speaks.

We hear no words of complaint,

despair or fear. The sly humor spawned

during a childhood picking cotton

and raising younger siblings in a four-room

home packed with nine kids

continues today in her laughter weaving

through all conversations, a warm shawl

that stretches from Texas to Colorado.

When family visits, her face lights up

like a Christmas tree. Her playful spirit spins

TV ads and my clumsy attempts to cook in her kitchen

into gentle giggling simmering through the day

like a pot of soup on the burner.

On Mother’s Day when I told her I loved her

and was glad she’s my mother-in-law,

she said, “I’m glad you’re my sister.”

She caught the mistake, paused, couldn’t find

the word “daughter-in-law, but she giggled―

eyes as full of delight as when she years ago hoodwinked me

into decorating for my own birthday surprise―

and she said in her soft Texas drawl,

“Well, whoever you are, I love you too!”

Carolyn Jennings ©2008


Here’s to a painfully poetic 2009!



More On “Ode To The Pacifiers”

Dear Reader,


On November 26th I posted the first third of Michael J. Henry’s poem “Ode to the Pacifiers.” I was taken by Henry’s humorous descriptions of his daughters’ pacifiers. Today, I was moved by his poem’s bittersweet conclusion, the expression of a father’s fierce, protective love for his daughters, a love my daughters receive from their father. A love every daughter deserves to receive.


And now, the poem in it’s entirety.  




Let those scorn you who never

Starved in your dearth

    ―Robert Pinsky


Comfort elixir, sleep-dozer, quiet-plug,

O how you have saved me,

O how you have buttoned and plugged

those grumpy weary O mouths,

O how you have waved sadnesses

away and made darkness for dreams.

Mam, Nuk, The First Years―3317,

molded in Austria, Germany, Taiwan, Philippines,

you are the juicy bait from which I catch

my babyfishes, pull them out of their ocean

of cry and fuss, gently drop them

into the hold in the hull of our house,

where they drift, the new cells

which I have half-made.

Your swallow-guard, hip cradles

under nose, your end a knob

that turns off the volume,

sometimes with a handle

like a purse-strap, your business end

a tan flexible light bulb, fake nipple,

idea bubble, bald man’s mini-head, dirigible,

future tooth crookener they sometimes say―

but really? I do love you so,

I’ve worshipped you, genuflected to you

even though you weave dust and fibers

and momma-hair around

your saliva-slick end,

even though you always disappear,

falling and scattering like a mouse

under counters, car tires, beds,

into heating vents, garbage disposals,

et cetera, et cetera.

Though I have never French-kisssed

you clean, I will never accuse you

of badness. But I do

worry, some nights went I can’t sleep,

nights they are with you: who will someday

coddle them, what will they suckle

if they end up on dark streets

with cruisers, sharks, and other bad

men, my girls gazing into locked storefronts,

their shoelaces untied,

fingernails dirty and uncut, their bodies―

skin and bone that I have so

carefully wrought―grimy and cold?


Reprinted with permission from Michael J. Henry.

Found in No Stranger Than My Own.