Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Man of Sorrows

The favorite phrase of Christmas hymns
   of greetings, cards, and pondering hearts:
   Good will, good cheer and peace on earth!
A time of joy and caroling,
   a time to smile and celebrate.
   Be merry! Think of Jesus' birth!
He comes to us in our happiness.

And yet did not the prophet say
   A man of sorrows, known to grief,
   undesired, despised, oppressed,
Stricken, smitten, turned away,
   He died to bring us peace on earth,
   and we hid our faces from Him
He comes to us in all our pain.

Let us seek Him in the sad
   and lonely, peaceless places, too,
   bind up the griefs as He would do.
Let us not forget that He
   carried our sorrows, bore our griefs
   and with His stripes brought healing.
We'll come to Him bearing the same

   and to us He will bring peace.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Trying to describe my feelings on my wedding day: fifth attempt

Words are a shallow dish
into which we pour the clear stream
that flows through the mountains of our hearts.
We hold the dish
and call what it holds poetry,
when what we really want
is to capture the beautiful, bouncing droplets
that shimmer in the air
and mist our eyes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Twelve Days: Partidges and Parties

The third and final article in a series on the Twelve Days festival of ancient Earth.

While the meaning and theme of the Twelve Days focused on the arrival of Santa Claus and avoiding his harmful touch, it must be remembered that the season was, in fact, a festival. Perhaps as an act of defiance-- to show that evil could not intimidate them--celebrants escalated their festivities from day to day.

A popular song, variations of which still persist, describes the increasing celebrations in terms of food, family, and frivolity. On the first night the meal's main course consists of a single partridge (a small game bird probably considered a delicacy). On subsequent nights the size of the bird steadily increases, as does the number served. Two pigeons, three game hens, and so on, until finally there are seven magestic roast swans on the table.

The sumptuous fare is, of course, matched by a swelling in the ranks of those called in to help eat it. While the partridge the first evening was perfect for an intimate dinner with "my true love," the couple is joined by more and more people each night. Presumably these guests are their immediate and extended family, followed by other friends and connections. The crowd grows so large that nine dance floors and, by the twelfth day, a dozen different musicians are required to provide simultaneous entertainment for the gathering.

It appears that an element of gift-giving was also fundamental to the festivities. In particular, the author of the song rejoices that his/her true love presented him/her with a gold ring for each finger of the hand. There may have been significance to this specific gift relating to protection from the coming fires, as there are references that gold rings were immune to all but the most intense of flames. However, it is clear that this spirit of giving spilled over into general expressions of thoughtfulness and celebration. I like to consider this evidence that the human spirit will imbue any event with goodness and kindness, even one that revolves around such a frightening character as Santa Claus.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Twelve Days: Stockings and Trees

The second article in a series on the ancient Twelve Days holiday.

In view of the looming threat of Santa's visit (see yesterday's article on Santa Claus), parents enforced a curfew with increasing rigor. Children were sent to the far end of the house, preferably their bedrooms, for protection from any physical or spiritual danger. Others also sought refuge, but by tradition one or more adult members of the household stayed up to guard against mishap.

The primary defense against Santa's malice was to set out tempting decoys. Upon arrival through the fireplace or engine room, Santa would encounter flammable articles of clothing, usually expendable items such as socks. This would prevent him from trying to find and set fire to clothing with a person inside.

Another common decoy was the fir tree. Left inside for several days to dry, the tree still retained the appearance of life while also being readily combustible. Early on it was thought that Santa Claus could not resist the temptation offered by the tree alone, but later generations seemed to think something else was needed. The first development was to place, paper-wrapped packages at the foot of the tree. The contents of these packages is unclear and was apparently variable, but in all cases they were items that could be damaged by fire and may have been considered sacrifices to the flame.

The most dramatic move, however, came about the time that the invention of indoor fire suppression made the practice tolerably safe, though certainly still hazardous. To make the tree the best possible magnet for the fire demon, lit candles were placed in the branches and left overnight. With an open flame beside the dry, sap-filled wood covered with pine-needle tinder, it was a  bonfire waiting to happen. Little wonder, then, that when belief in Santa Claus waned this became the principal mode of celebration. The years have seen ever more creative methods of lighting and enhancing these fires, and the creativity has always remained one step ahead of available safety measures. Once again, I encourage all to be vigilant in avoiding injury this season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Twelve Days: Santa Claus

The most mythologically frightening of the Lost Festivals is now upon us, and I encourage all to be safe as they commemorate the Twelve Days of ancient Earth legend.  This article is the first of several installments exploring the origin and meaning of the season's superstitions.

The most recognizable symbol of the Twelve Days is, of course, Santa Claus. Contrary to popular belief, the fire demon's name owes nothing to the claw-like hands found in artwork of the mid-28th century. (The name may in fact have inspired the artistic depictions.) Rather, it devolves linguistically from the phrase "The Tock Laws," which laws appear to concern matters of curfew generally, and the midnight curfew of the Twelve Days specifically (see tomorrow's installment: Stockings and Trees). Scholars assert this relates to the distinctive "tocking" noise made by the mechanical clocks of the era.

Santa Claus is predictably imagined in red clothing, symbolic of his kinship with flame. He enters a residence by way of the most fire-imbued fixture. In the earliest times this meant a fireplace and chimney, and later a furnace or cookstove. At the birth of the space age, the engine room became Santa's doorway, though modern non-combustion fuel systems have changed this. Now Santa Claus arrives from the hydrogen harvesters or plasma decon tanks, depending upon ship class and local custom.

Although he enters homes at sites of potentially lethal conflagration, Santa Claus has always been thought to reside in the coldest of regions. Ancient Earth tradition placed him at the northern pole, an impermanent ice sheet constantly subsumed and regenerated from sub-freezing ocean temperatures. Current myth holds that his home is the inter-wormgate void, where measurable heat is a theoretical impossibility. Presumably, this persistence of a fire demon in the harshest possible conditions is symbolic of evil's persistence and the difficulty humanity will face in triumphing over this dangerous foe.

Santa's arrival at midwinter, when nights are coldest, may be related to this symbolism as well, though in my view it is more likely to stem from the fact that this was a time when fire was necessary to light and warm homes, and therefore the danger of fire damage or injury was greatly heightened. Even today, the use of fire in the Twelve Days celebrations is a cause for concern, and all due caution should be exercised.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why the Heart?

From my heart there is a direct road,
through veins and vessels, to every part of me.

Through the flood and tide that flow inside
its song ripples out to resonate
in every capillary, shin to skull to skin.

As long as life lingers, my heart keeps rhythm
for the passing song I play with feet and fingers.

When the rest of me rests, mind asleep, eyes closed,
even and especially when you take my breath away,
my heart beats on, never stops moving.

Replenished every moment, it is always full,
giving again as much as it receives, and more.

My heart is the center, the source, the song,
the strength for every dance and smile and stretch.
That is why I say you are my heart.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


You can see it in the rusting of the trees,
in the ever-slower shuffling of the streams.
You can feel it in the way we stay abed,
wrapped against the early morning cold.
You can hear it in the forest's creaking limbs
and ever-trembling, sighing, palsied leaves.

The world is getting old.

We fight it off with pungent scents,
with cinnamon and nutmeg and pine,
but autumn rain puddles into wet mildew.
We ignore it with talk of spring, pretending
that our memories of summer are unfaded.
We push it back with rich tastes,
with sharp cranberries and crisp apples,
but we cannot stop it, this falling apart,
this final heavy turning of the year.

The world is getting old.

Do not hide from her, here, inside.
Please do not let her age alone.
Let us walk long, walk slow,
talk soft, and thank her for her time.
We will show her young hope
and younger life, and smile together.

The world is getting old.

Note: This is a poetic form called the bop. I discovered it with this example bop by Robert Brewer. It's excellent, and I suggest you take a look! 
A bop involves 3 stanzas of 6-8-6 lines and a 1-line refrain. Meter and rhyme scheme are up to you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Joy to the World

Image credit:
It has been a few years since I sang Christmas carols in Japanese, but when I heard an instrumental rendition of "Silent Night" on the radio the other day, the first line of the Japanese song popped into my mind. I couldn't remember the rest of the words, so today I pulled out my 日本語の賛美歌 (Japanese hymnbook) and started to go through the Christmas songs.

One carol, "Joy to the World," really struck me. Here is a back-translation of the Japanese version. (I have opted for meaning over meter, so it may not go with the original music.)

All ye people, come together as one to celebrate and welcome,
For the Lord for whom we've waited so long has now come!
The Lord e'en now is come.
He broke in pieces the iron doors and set the captives free
The Lord e'en now is come!
In thirsty, withered hearts he makes flowers grow with the dew of mercy. 
The Lord e'en now is come!
Repent* and come to welcome the Son of the God of heaven.
Praise the very Lord and Savior. 
Sing praise, sing praise!

*The word translated here as "repent" was a new one for me. The character 斎 has multiple related meanings, but when read 「いつ・く」"itsuku" it indicates purification and worship. More specifically, my dictionary defines it as "worship, or cleansing both heart and body of impurity and serving God."

Monday, October 17, 2011


From the day I arrived in Atlanta I have been smiling at the roads I've driven on. They are full of stories. There are many, but I'm going to list here a few of my favorites. Please take time to think about the stories inherent in the names: where they come from, and what they do next.
  • Beaver Ruin Road
  • Sugarloaf Parkway
  • Boulevard Avenue
  • Five Forks Trickum
  • Peachtree (Ave, St, Rd, Ln, Cir, Pkwy, Blvd, Ct, Trc, and about 85 more)
I've written elsewhere about the joys of living fifteen minutes from Freedom and about the differences between the roads in Georgia and those in the West.

Fifteen Minutes from Freedom

Note: Written Nov 6, 2010.

My house is a subdued but cheerful yellow, with brick pillars on the front porch. It is at the second speedbump, coming from either direction. If you go east, a fifteen minute walk takes you to this intersection. 

I thought that "Fifteen Minutes from Freedom" sounded like a great name--for a house, a story, a poem, or whatever else. As far as a place to live, it's pretty nice. The house is comfortable, large, and clean. Rather fancy, actually. I am about half an hour away from the Aquarium, ten minutes from the grocery store, and less than an hour and a half from school no matter how late the bus is running).

But all of that stands to change. A week ago I bought a car. Soon, Atlanta will shrink! Previously inaccessible areas of the city will open to my exploring headlights! I will travel to other cities, visit the temples in Birmingham and Nashville! I will shop and date and be on time for my 8am classes! Okay, maybe not that last one. But the possibilities are practically endless. Soon.

The feeling of "Fifteen Minutes from Freedom" also describes my current mobility. I have a car. As soon as the title comes in the mail I will be able to go get the vehicle registered. Then I will have a license plate. Then I will be able to drive. Until then, my Corolla is the silver color of possibility, a sleek spaceship parked aesthetically behind the house. When it becomes the silver of currency, of roller skates strapped firmly to my feet, the silver of "Hi Ho" lone ranger fame, Freedom will be much closer than fifteen minutes.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Literary Lozenges

This morning I woke up several hours too early, with unsettled thoughts and unrested muscles. Rolling over (and over) did little to invite sleep, and between a low fever and a cautious cough I was feeling sick enough to be distinctly uncomfortable.
I'm sure you know the feeling.

Past remedies have included soothing music, steaming hot-chocolate, and soft couches (not to mention actual medication that I might choose to take). However, the fading starlight of pre-dawn and the cold-induced insomnia begged a different recourse. I picked up a book.

Reading there on the couch reminded me of countless other times when, feeling under the weather, I had curled up in my sheets with a tale of once-upon-a-time. If I was home sick from school and unfit for anything more strenuous than old recordings of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, I often found release (or commisseration?) in a story that I could hold as close as I wanted but was bigger than any binding.

Today's choice was an old favorite that I have wanted to re-read. More than the book itself, though, the act of reading (or maybe even the memory of reading) soothed me more fully and effectively than I could have expected. Thoughts calmed, coughs subsided, sweating ceased, and I was left to greet the sunrise. Still with a cold, but also with a friend. And with a precious reminder of the beauty of prose, the power of books.

New Policy

One reason I haven't been posting recently is that the thoughts I've been thinking haven't fallen into poetic form very easily, so the poems I've started on have felt very forced.
(Other reasons, of the school-is-getting-busy and I-just-got-engaged variety may also be contributing factors to the lack of blog activity.)
So my decision is to shift to a little more of the Just Blogging variety of posts where I'll write what I'm thinking whether it sounds good or not. I'll throw poems in as they come along,  but I think this more freeform standard will help me to write productively.

So get ready for thoughts and musings untouched by Muse or over-thinking.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Haiku for a Saturday

Duke of Wellington:
swift arrival announced by
Star Wars at sunrise

stunning summer day
give thanks for the miracles
air conditioning

Friday, July 29, 2011


You have noticed, no doubt, that I broke my promise to post more poems soon. The big reason for this is that I have been slacking in the writing department. I did spend a little time reading and a lot of time living life, but wasn't it just a few months ago that I wrote a poem every single day? Why can't I even do a seventh as much work?

Well, no more. Naomi Shihab Nye, a poet I admire, has chastened me. In a recent discussion (it's only 3 minutes long to watch, and less than that to read) Nye commented on the importance of not only reading and collecting poetry, but of responding to it--of writing. I've let nearly a month go by without doing either, and I'm getting back on the bandwagon. Verses and voices will be drifting your way.

Though most of the reason I didn't post is that I simply did not give time to writing, part of it is an unwillingness to share what I did manage to get onto paper.

An example is the preceding post "Ten Over." I wrote half of it and stopped, not liking it. It's still not what I would call my best work, but I've reconciled myself to posting it. The problem is not so much with what the poem is, but with what I expected it to be. When I started writing, I had something specific in mind that I wanted to accomplish with the poem, and in the process of writing it the poem became something else entirely. This actually happens more often than not in my writing, that a work grows to become something all its own, in spite of any plans I may have had for it at the outset. Often this is what gives life to the poem, or what saves it from being horribly contrived. I go back and read it again, wondering where all those great images came from.

But other times it is disappointing. I started three poems this month (which tells you that even if I'd finished all of them I would still owe you several posts) but didn't finish any of them in one sitting. What happened to letting the blog be a place for rough drafts and spontaneity? What happened to being confident that hardly anyone reads it anyway, so there's no reason to be embarrassed about anything I post?

I'll see what I can do. Or, more to the point, what the poems can do. You'll be the first to know.

Ten Over

Driving down the interstate again
with leapfrogging corvettes
and sauntering sedans
and one convertible.

Brown and red and green and white,
coupe and bug and pickup truck,
we all have our windows down
to share the rushing wind.

Tapping on the driver's panel door
or on the roof above his head
or coasting careless in the air
left-hand fingers dance.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cowboy's Blessing

I'm two weeks behind! I'm sorry! Poems on the way in a day or too, I promise.
In the meantime, please enjoy this poem I found printed on someone's door. A diligent google search failed to reveal the author. (That's not to say that nobody knows, just that I couldn't find it in less than seven and a half minutes.)

Cowboy's Blessing
May neither drouth, nor rain nor blizzard
Disturb the joy-juice in your gizzard!
And may you camp where wind won't hit you,
where snakes won't bite and bears won't git you!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Leaking smoke like
a sawed-off shotgun
this smoldering second-half
of a ground-out cigarette
cocked casually from
the pickup's open window.
Gray ash dusts away,
a breeze-blown hourglass,
and the light changes.

Friday, June 24, 2011


You are that soft strength, my sea anchor--
not plunged into the sand, a sullen sodden rope pulled taught
across a widening gulf between us--no,
you are that gentle weight at my back, moving with me
yet holding me so that I do not drift,
making me more solid through both waves and wind at once,
and I'm always circling back to you.

The strength of rain: a current coursing ever earthward,
more insistent in its flow than any Nile
or Mississippi as they wind and wend their way to sea.
And yet the rain is careful, soft,
tapping tip-toed to the ground small drop by dainty drop.
And how much more does soil love
the rain than any river's flow? How much more strength
than streams does rain endow?
And what but its sweet fall could form the softness of a rainbow?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


There is tragedy in the arithmetic of Wednesday afternoons.
Two by two they're matched, then paired
and placed in a warm embrace to rest softly, together.
But left behind, with the dryer sheet, these three:

one whose double has been missing, adventuring somewhere
in unknown jungles for forgotten months;

two that nearly match, but not quite,
and so are only worn when all others have been chosen--
held in reserve until no one else is left,
but singly, no folding together so that they
will have someone to hold on to in the quiet dark.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Tired fans blow worn-out breezes
'cross the sun-burned brick.
Rivulets of heat run down
in beads of fiery sweat.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What I should have been posting

I saw eight poems this week.
At least eight. Those were the ones
I knew I should write down--and didn't:

The smell of dew forming so thick
that the weight of it pressed all my worries
through to the antipodes,
leaving me singing along
with my windshield wipers.

Waves of heat rising from a roof,
an oasis hiding on the other side.

A songbird cheering as rain poured around her.
Too giddy to compose an aria, she trilled
and trilled again.

Relaxed curls spilling onto my hand,
her ear resting on my chest.

Scratches on the side of my car--
faint, white
like clenched fingers and irritated muttering--
and an unbroken mirror on the ground.

Megan dropping her pen three times
before it hit the ground.

A car parked quietly behind the house,
patiently waiting
but not telling anyone why.
No one was at home.

And a notepad of empty sheets
all hoping to carry a poem home
but returning just as wordless
as when they walked out the door
for over a fortnight.

So many poems I didn't see.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Philately (n.)

The love of traveling
and of places
and the people in them.

The love of life,
of living larger than one's home
or town or nation
or time.

The love of breath
that speaks words across doorsteps,
across miles, across months.
Breath that caresses a note
imbuing it with scents of home.

The love of tangible reminders
that people love and care
and shop and argue and move
and joke and spy
and live and breathe with each other
from half a world away.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Arash, Director of Graduate Studies.
He knows the professors, the science, the system.
He understands the students, the questions, the indecisions.
That is why, when you give him your opinion,
he can answer with a confident affirmative:

Friday, May 27, 2011


why is it called a crush?

is it the way he hides the smile he gets,
bumpy and wavy and scrunched
as a squished soda can,
every time he sees her?

is it the way she crumples the corner
of a candid photograph,
fingers massaging the paper
back into rumpled smoothness?

is it the way our feelings,
almost by definition, are stamped
"undeliverable. return to sender"
with all the rubber finality of a post office?

is it the inevitable rejection
that leaves hearts smashed, smooshed, squashed,
and a hundred other variations,
leaking disappointment into your chest?

or is it the way your photos and smiles,
your moments of one-way proximity,
smell happy as crushed oranges, cranberries,
allspice, cinnamon, and cloves?

PS Sorry for the delay in getting this week's post up. I'll throw in a few extra in the coming days to try to make up for it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Two Windows

Directly in front of me
the one that stretches wall-to-wall,
really four windows latched together end-to-end,
makes it look hot outside:
sun glinting on white stucco walls
and silver ventilation covers
and short-sleeved arms that
swing and stretch on their way
to "opthalmic research laboratory"

Off to the right
the one where I look each time
I talk with those working beside me
peers into greenery:
small square of forest
glowing bright as birdsong
but hinting of shadowed secrets
sheltering branches
and a conspiracy of caterpillars.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Mouse

The mouse is essential to science.
Hardly a day goes by that i do not handle one,
and I have never worked in the lab
not once
without relying on information
derived with the use of a mouse.
Mice are honored, elevated,
always at the right hand of an effective
and efficient researcher.
Mice change our work from difficult to easy,
from impossibly complex to intuitively simple.
A mouse is the perfect size,
nestled in your palm, making you feel that
yes! you are accomplishing something.
I cannot imagine science without the mouse.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Five Star Mother

Her youngest plays marimba songs
like the Star Wars cantina,
has lots of friends, and acts in plays
though he is just sixteen-a.
Her oldest is the sweetest wife
that you have ever seen-a,
edits books and always cooks
despite hectic routine-as.
Her middle child has dino bones
once under a patina
of dust and rock-- but now they smell
good as lemon verbena.
Her younger daughter soon will leave
to speak like a latina
and share the gospel in Salt Lake
with those from Argentina.
The final son is trying to
decide his course between-a
several labs in which to do
work for his PhD-a.
All five of these her stars wish we
could hear her concertina,
then give our heartfelt thanks to her:
the mother we call . . . Mom!

Happy Mother's Day!

For the holiday, I also recommend Ted Kooser's poem Mother, featured a week ago on NPR's Writer's Almanac.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Streetsign Shadorma

Highway signs:
"Fast break for breakfast-
think QuikTrip"
"Grab & Go!"
"First moves us forward, faster"
"Xpress park and ride"

No stop lights,
hardly pausing for
"Jiffy Lube"
"RaceTrac Gas"
"Minimum Speed 45"
No one can slow down.

Monday, May 2, 2011

National Poetry Month: Wrap Up

I did it! The poem-a-day challenge is complete, and I'm feeling good about it. I review my month below. I'm very glad I participated--it was a lot of fun, and if it weren't quite so much work to make sure one got written every day I would try to continue through the whole year. I loved trying to make poetry a part of my day. The only downside is that it took a lot more time than I can consistently commit to giving.

That's why, now that April is over, we're going back to the old schedule of. . . oh, wait. I haven't actually set an official schedule. I guarantee a post once a week, which will probably go up on Mondays. I will try to post two or three times a week, but make no promises beyond the one.

Review of Poetry Month:
The best thing about poetry month was the opportunity it gave me to experiment with different poetic forms. I tried shadorma (Day 26), cinquain (7 and 12), pantoum (11), reverso (13), and sonnets (23 and 24). I also wrote a smattering of limericks and haiku that didn't make the blog.

I was surprised at the difficulty I had with the sonnets and with some of the apparently straightforward forms like the cinquain--I'm so used to the 5/7/5 of haiku that even-syllabled lines were remarkably hard to feel the meter for.

I enjoyed the Promises of Princesses sequence (Days 14-19) because I got to use a similar meter in each but adapt it for a different voice. I haven't tried to pick a favorite from the month, but Promise the Third (17) is the one I am the most proud of. I think its form does as much to evoke feeling as the words do.

In learning about the forms I tried this month, I found some others that I intend to attempt soon. I also found a large number of excellent poetry websites and blogs that I highlighted in individual posts. A few, especially The Miss Rumphius Effect and Poetic Asides, are especially notable as excellent resources and gateways to the wider community. If you haven't checked them out yet, you should!

I hope your poetry Month was great, too. Thanks for celebrating with me!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Life in D Major (National Poetry Month: Day 30)

"The way music is formed of
cloud and fire once actually
concrete now accidental as
half truth or as whole truth"
-From That This by Susan Howe-

First the tuning, 
a few dissonant experiments to see
how everything fits together.
Then slow, start with two days
so similar that one ties into the next,
and only the rhythm of passing hours 
measures them apart.

Move gradually into rolling weeks,
arpeggiated into days that begin 
to drive forward,
carrying you along until 
they pile on top of each other;
first two, then three, then more,
and soon you are playing great dramatic chords,
with alternating Sundays a fourth or fifth above tonic, 
chiming out in concert with your goals,
your failings, your swift recoveries.

Then in counterpoint ,a descant dances in
on tip-toes, down and up,
dodging in and out of your chords
with perfect grace notes.
Her half-steps into your life seem accidental,
marked out in staccato seconds 
and boldly marcato moments,
but your schedules always seem to 
be syncopated.

A modulation, and with falling scales
it is suddenly clear before your eyes
that everything has become natural.
Trying not to go flat, you brace against the 
supports you have, and add your melody
to the duet.
Slowly building crescendo, 
and some of the earlier elements 
no longer fit, edging the harmony with 
too minor a key,
so those drop out.

Thankfully so, for now the tempo accelerates,
and you would be tripping over 
those extra eighth-notes. There are
hours you wish could be held,
a whole chorus of fermatas rained down on
the tight harmonies that resolve so well.
But the beat moves on, and you play,
amazed at how repeated days
can form such a solid foundation for
this complex melody.
Not even sure where in the piece you are,
she sees the sign and you jump

to the coda, tying earlier themes into
one concluding stanza. Follow her through 
a glissando of happy words, then
a caesura

End of the first movement.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Red (National Poetry Month: Day 29)

Roses are red,
Some jello is, too.
And herrings in stories,
and the U of U.
Pens when you're grading,
and lobsters, her blouse,
humanitarian crosses,
and bricks in your house.
Blood, also--and rum
in a similar vein.
Weddings in China,
riding hoods, velvet cake,
Christmas tree lights,
and hands that get caught.
Letters on days
for which presents are bought.
Being in debt,
or blushing, or mad;
Exit signs, carpets,
biohazard bags.
Stop lights and checkers,
and all of the rest.
But out of these red things,
the roses are best.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Investigation (National Poetry Month: Day 28)

What happened here?
   Isn't it clear?
   He fell in love--case closed.
Fell, yes. That much is obvious.
But did he jump or was he pushed?
That's the question now.
   He left a note, that's evidence
   he jumped of his own will.
A note? Not one, but dozens. More!
Is that not odd to you?
   You think this was somehow arranged
   and that the notes are fake?
Can't be. The handwriting is his,
and witnesses attest that he
delivered them himself.
   You think perhaps he was coerced?
   That might make sense of why he wrote
   such awful poetry.
But then he might have simply lacked
the talent for such things.
   What about the woman who
   received the notes, and visits too?
   Did you question her?
She knew him well and should have seen
the signs before it happened, but
she claims to be just as surprised
as everybody else.
   Is it true that she was there
   when the fall occurred?
She was, and so for now she is
prime suspect in this case.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

To Kelley (National Poetry Month: Day 27)

Yesterday you were the wind to me,
a joyful racing rushing to and fro.
Each passing scent, each touch, each gentle breeze
set thoughts a-flutter, made excitement grow.

Today you are still waters, calm and deep,
a peaceful happiness both strong and slow.
A confidence that in you I'm complete
envelopes me and rich o'er-fills my soul.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Songbird Shadorma (National Poetry Month: Day 26)

breathing blue,
lungs bursting with sky
and new dawn,
brown thrush sings--
so thirsty for the morning
he might drink it all.


The shadorma is a six-lined poems with the syllable counts of 3/5/3/3/7/5. Do you want to read more shadorma? My favorites from that page are The Peculiar Mosquito by K. Thomas Slesarik and Shadorma by Heidi Mordhorst. When you're done reading, go ahead and explore the rest of the site. It is an excellent poetry blog called The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Recipe: Mud Pie (National Poetry Month: Day 25)

First you need a stick for stirring,
  sturdy but not over-thick.
Test by listening to how
  it sounds when fencing with a rock
or spinning in the air: faWoosh!

Next a brother who will help
  turn on the hose in the right place.
Strong and smart best friend, somehow
  he never seems to be the one
who gets in trouble. spaLoosh!

The stick will break, so use your feet
  to mix the mud just right--
until it gloops onto your shirt
  when you squeeze your fingers tight.
Test it against the wall: kerSplot!

If it sticks it's perfect but
  keep testing to make extra sure.
When you're ready form it up
  into a dozen flattened balls.
Knead them with the stick. blaWhop!


This poem was inspired by a prompt from the Lantern Review blog.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Angel's Sonnet (National Poetry Month: Day 24)

With weary step you make your mournful way
To weep again together o'er your Lord,
To cleanse and wrap his body, then to pray
And sing a parting hymn in anguished chords.
In this dim light, for sun has yet to dawn,
'Tis hard to see at first with tearful eyes:
The stone that once had sealed the grave is gone!
Alarm o'erflows your hearts with fearful cries.
Fear not, beloved! Come, and see inside.
Why look ye for the living 'midst the dead?
I know that ye seek Jesus, crucified;
He is not here, but risen as he said!
Tell all the world Christ lives! He reigns above
And soon will come to visit you in love.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Mother's Sonnet (National Poetry Month: Day 23)

How are you gone to where I cannot come?
Lost beyond doors unassailable
Nor e'en to be approached, my blessed son;
The way is hedged-up, guarded, terrible!
The watch is fixed and sleepless day and night.
It will admit no other to come near;
The seal is set, the stone secure and tight,
Preventing those who'll not be held by fear.
But even could I pass beyond those portals
I could but cold hands and cheeks caress
For you are passed beyond the reach of mortals-
I felt the nails and spear in my own flesh.
As son of God grief could have passed you o'er
But now, dear son, I ne'er shall see you more!


Today is the day of mourning that followed Black Friday.
I chose a sonnet because it is the traditional form for an expression of love, and also because today (April 23) is recognized as the birthday of William Shakespeare. The Shakespearean sonnet (of which this is an example) is the most common in English. You can read the Bard's orginals here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Idyllic (National Poetry Month: Day 22)

Plato said we look at trees
and see mere shadows of the TREE
ideal and metaphysical
that trees may well resemble but
never can be truly like.

He did not know that love can turn
the shadow into truth.
My tree becomes imbued with life,
perfection just as pure
as any TREE you care to dream
in ideal abstract form.

So when I say you're beautiful,
life's best in every way,
it's not just what I see but how
you very truly are.
And when I hold your hand I touch
PERFECTION's Form revealed,
for you, my love, are always and
forever my ideal.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shell (National Poetry Month: Day 21)

She scoots along, sliding 
through the crowd like 
the sly snail who 
is forever in half 
ready at an instant to 
into his portable bunker.
Ears and eyes, tail inside,
he presents an impassive
and inscrutable face.
He is safe
in a dangerous world.

Her shell, too, is made 
of spiral, smooth white
mixed with bitter, 
brittle notes.
Behind her earbuds she 
is unassailable.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ergo Sum (National Poetry Month: Day 20)

If you would be a speaker of good verse,
you must, for at least one time in your life,
     dactyl the verse in all things.
     I dactyl and therefore I speak!
I speak, and so iamb.
  -Renes Decartes
   (loosely translated from the original)


You may not know (I didn't) that every day Garrison Keillor shares a poem on NPR. You can read or listen to past poems at 
On Monday he read one by Marge Piercy titled Where Dreams Come From that I recommend for you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Postlude to a Promise (National Poetry Month: Day 19)

Twelve villages rebuilt at last
upon the scorched and blackened ground
now thrive where once the scars were worst.
Memory of painful past
is softened by the blessed sounds
of life renewed and slow rebirth.

As winter presses from the soil
the roots and knots, the endless starts
and stops of seedlings trying to grow,
so too do passing seasons toil,
massaging fear from grieving hearts
until at last they let it go.

And so this loved and lovely queen,
whose eyes great seas of tears have spilt
at thought of claws and dragon's guile,
has come at last to feel and be
at home in smoothly tailored silk,
in honeysuckle crowns, in smiles.

The love and health, the joy and mirth,
are miracles she has bestowed
in the kingdom's days of trial.

They have been kept . . . the promises of princesses.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Promise the Fourth (National Poetry Month: Day 18)

Hush, dear, hush. I'll dry your tears.
I'll hold you close and share your fears.

I shall not die - these wounds are light.
I need nothing but the sight
of you. Oh, sweet, I've missed you so!
When morning comes I'll take you home.

Yes, the horrid beast is slain -
you needn't look on it again.
Its body lies there where it fell.
Hush, dear, hush! All will be well.

Oh? How could I be less than brave?
I had a daughter here to save.
Remember this, for this is true:
Love conquers all. And I love you!

Such, then, was given the very best
true promise to a dear princess.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Promise the Third (National Poetry Month: Day 17)

Beneath bleached clouds that listless drift
dry as the earth and near as stiff,
three years she's lived upon this cliff
   the color of bones.
The girl no longer winces when
the dragon's scales brush on her skin.
Its breath blows through her hair so thin;
   gives never a moan.
She hardly notices the stench
in which she and her world are drenched
and which for months had made her retch
   and kick the white stones.
A thousand times she slowly crept
away while the foul dragon slept;
it caught her even when she leapt,
   from precipice thrown.  
She does not dream; dreams are too weak.
Nor does she hope; hope, too, is bleak.
But dreamless, hopeless, yet she speaks
   in darkness, alone.
Someday, someday I will be clean.
Somehow, somehow I will be free.
Sometime, sometime I will not be so very hungry.
   she softly intones.

Whatever occurs,
these words,
they are hers.
   The words are her own
lost promises of princesses...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Promise the Second (National Poetry Month: Day 16)

Hear ye, hear ye, criers cry,
proclaiming far and wide,
Let it be known in the King's name
announced on every side:
We summon all Our subjects who
hold this Our kingdom dear
to gird themselves, to take up arms
and banish every fear.
A fortnight hence commemorates
the second passing year
since the horrid eve on which
Our daughter disappeared.
With passion and great eloquence
the heralds then retell
the mournful tale of tragic loss
this populace knows well.
'Tis not the princess only who
has not returned again;
the dragon ate each rescuer,
the kingdom's bravest men.
Few seek her now, for all have failed
as prophecy foretold,
yet still there's hope for one who is
strong, noble, good, and bold.
The woman who pronounced her fate
when she was nine days old
declared she'd one day rule as queen:
to this her father holds.
He promises great titles, wealth,
a wagon filled with gold,
the very crown from off his head:
there's nothing he'll withhold.
The proclamation being read
throughout the mourning land
reminds all that the man who saves
the princess wins her hand.
And so a few more haggard souls
head off to their sad fate.
They won't know who's the chosen one
until it's far too late.
Such things are hard for one to see
and harder to relate;
it's almost as though this foul beast
were keeping her as bait.
Even when facing dragon fire
and fear that it creates,
few men are there who can deny
conscience and king's dictates.
Fewer still will not be lured
by fame and all that is,
like beauty, wealth, glory or praise,
promised of princesses. . .

Friday, April 15, 2011

Promise the First (National Poetry Month: Day 15)

Nine days past, in early morn
this daughter of a king was born
Now is the time for augury,
for second sight and prophecy.
She's come to have her fortune told,
to learn just what her future holds.

Into this broth of herbs and bone,
a teardrop and an eyelash throw.
Now add honeysuckle flowers,
candle wax that watched for hours
with nursemaids who strict vigil kept
in the chamber where she slept.

Breath of queen, then breath of king,
and now the future can be seen:
clever, happy as a child
in temperament not over-mild;
a sickness in her seventh year,
but she'll recover, never fear.

She'll grow in beauty day by day,
be regal, strong in every way.
Men shall come from many lands
in hopes of winning her fair hand.
For years they'll seek her; all shall fail--
one noble man at last prevail.

She'll save her people when she's queen,
grown wise and strong from where she's been.
Sorrow she will find in full
but joy shall doubly overflow.
These are the things my magic says,
fair promises of princesses. . .

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Prelude to a Promise (National Poetry Month: Day 14)

Within the night a shadow crawls
across the face of wooded hills
and launches as a ship would do
from shore to bay, then out to sea.

No moonlight casts this silhouette
for stars alone look down tonight
upon the empty black expanse
from which no constellation shines.

The shadow sinks into the deep,
doubly drowned in dark'ning gloom,
for clouds grow thick and shroud the sky
extinguishing the feeble light.

Wet mist tossed up from jagged waves
is blasted skyward 'til it meets
a horde of droplets hurtling down,
shrieking in the ragged night.

Wind screams with rising fury as
the squall becomes a hurricane
that rages on the open sea
and beats its fists on all in reach.

Yet through the hail, the bludgeoning,
a presence mingles with the clouds
and forges on through wet and storm
unshaken by such violent hate.

Dark wings of leather taut as tents
stretch wide against the thund'ring rain,
beating back against the wind
and conq'ring even this dark foe.

Into slit nostrils comes a scent
borne by a straying, wayward breeze
who, bearing fragile thoughts of home,
was press-ganged to this awful war.

It smells of smoothly tailored silk,
of honeysuckle crowns, of smiles.
A tongue of flame licks at the night
and gleams in hungry, shrewd black eyes.

The dragon flies for leagues unseen
unfailing in its long pursuit
for in those scents it tastes again
sweet promises of princesses. . .

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dalinar (National Poetry Month: Day 13)

He is weak,
a man who thinks
the world relies on him.
To be saved
he obeys
these words and teachings,
a forgotten king.
This man may become
our only hope, though
it is
so difficult to see.
Remember this truth:
Strength before weakness!
Remember this truth,
so difficult to see.
It is
our only hope (though
this man may become
a forgotten king)--
these words and teachings
he obeys.
To be saved,
the world relies on him:
a man who thinks
he is weak.


This poetic form, an adaptation of the reverso, is particularly appropriate for its topic. The poem is a reference to Dalinar, a character from Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings. Dalinar lives in a world where palindromic repetitions are a fundamentally valued aesthetic.

For true reverso (in which the two halves are separate poems rather than concatenated as I've done here), read Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer, or check out this site.

The reverso is distinct from the palindrome poem, in which the words, not the lines, read the same in reverse. Some examples of palindrome poetry can be seen here or here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Okra (National Poetry Month: Day 12)

Green and gummy.
Not much flavor either.
Fried? Stir-fried? Curried? Succotashed?
I'll pass.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Harmony (National Poetry Month: Day 11)

The stars are shining brightly in the sky,
still winking at each other in the night.
As comfortable hours drift slowly by
they reach through darkness, inner fire alight.

Still winking at each other in the night
two lovers sit outside beneath the trees.
They reach through darkness, inner fire alight;
they smile and listen to each other breathe.

Two lovers sit outside beneath the trees.
As dawn seeps slow before the coming sun
they smile and listen to each other breathe
soft words of hope and joy and day begun.

As dawn seeps slow before the coming sun
new warmth awakens. Voice and light within
soft words of hope and joy and day begun
fill up the sky and echo on the wind.

New warmth awakens voice and light within
dark thunderheads that gather tight in crowds,
fill up the sky and echo on the wind.
The sun grows dim and hides within the clouds.

Dark thunderheads that gather tight in crowds
Shout thunder and glare lightning carelessly.
The sun grows dim and hides. Within the clouds
a mist of tears grows heavy but unseen.

Shout thunder and glare lightning! Carelessly
the light of sun and stars is lost and still
a mist of tears grows heavy. But, unseen
before, rain falls and all is cold and chill.

The light of sun and stars is lost. And still,
an inner fire remains by which to see:
before rain falls and all is cold and chill,
there is yet time to make apology.

An inner fire remains by which to see
there's hope in tear-washed eyes longing for growth.
There is yet time to make apology;
there's time to clear the clouds around them both.

There's hope in tear-washed eyes longing for growth,
so hand in hand they talk and smile because
there's time to clear the clouds around them both.
They laugh at silly things each says or does.

So hand in hand they talk and smile because
the stars are shining brightly in the sky.
They laugh at silly things each says or does
as comfortable hours drift slowly by.


This is a poetic form called the pantoum. I've encountered them before, but this is my first attempt at writing one myself. (A pantoum does not have to follow a rhyme scheme, even though I chose to here. It would have been easier to write without that added restriction.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Courage (National Poetry Month: Day 10)

Spring gives me hope, for spring is courage.

Spring is not joy and warmth.
Spring is not beauty and color.
Spring is not tenderness and singing birds.
Spring is not weekend picnics and falling in love.
Spring is not blossoming flowers and lengthening sunlight.

What is spring?
Spring is new leaves.
Not a few leaves, or even hundreds,
but thousands upon thousands.
Leaves adorning every tip
of every twig of every stem of every branch.
Leaves growing beside twisted knots,
beside scarred wood, beside wrinkled bark, beside broken limbs.

These are wrinkled trees, older than memory,
than generations, than buildings, than nations.
Knotted trees that have seen enough years to know
that summer is short, that autumn will come,
that their leaves will always fall
dry and lifeless and brown.
Broken trees that know winter is cold,
is dark, is long, is inevitable.
Scarred trees that know their branches will be left bare,
left empty, left bereaved, left once again alone.
And yet in spring these trees sprout leaves,
sprout leaves, sprout leaves, sprout leaves.
And yet these trees sprout leaves!

Spring gives me hope, for spring is courage.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

a time for gifts (National Poetry Month: Day 9)

Spring is a time for gifts, a time
when seeds lift high their tender sprouting leaves
in selfless offering to the wide sky
and say, this is my best, my all;
fed from the strength i stored
all winter long

The wind is laden thick with gifts of song
from birds that other times keep still
but now reveal a hidden purse of notes.
it is not much, they say,
but here. you need this more than i

Between your house and mine you've planted bulbs
and flagstones in the soil.
The stones, perhaps, are gifts for careful feet,
or else for flowers trying hard to grow.
Your home is full of laughter, friends,
and children who bring gifts they wrap
so carefully in ten small fingers.
There's little left to give.
And so I carry two small chairs outside
and hang a feeder for the hummingbirds.
thank you, I hear you say.
this place that you have made - 
it is good


This is a companion poem to a time for truth from November.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Storm Breaks (National Poetry Month: Day 8)

Lightning pillars crack.
Thunder crumbles, skylines shudder,
trestles crumple. Sheets of wind
rip free of raindrop riveting,
and clouds come crashing down.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April Evening (National Poetry Month: Day 7)

open, screenless,
let in on warm night air
the ceaseless sound of cicadas


This form of poetry, the cinquain, was developed by Adelaide Crapsey in the early 1900s. has a collection of her poems, and links to more by her and other poets. My favorites on that page are November Night and Amaze.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Windows to the Soul (National Poetry Month: Day 6)

The choice of glazing
will define a building's character.
Some box-like offices are set
with regular, rectangular, unimaginative glass
whose only purpose is to remind
that a world exists somewhere outside.
Bay windows overlooking greenery
invite a restful afternoon,
telling those without and in
to value both beauty and time to breathe.
Skylights in a vaulted ceiling say
We dine happily here.
An oriel gives promise that a princess lives within.
A dormer is economical; its hopes are more restrained.
Some buildings have huge picture windows,
or even an entire, extravagant wall of clear glass.
Others have portholes, casements, fanlights,
or a hundred other types of aperture.

Think what it says of our Architect
that we each bear, above our life-breath's door,
a transom crowned with two,
yes, two!
perfect rose windows.
Most glorious of glass, reserved for cathedrals.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Crescendo (National Poetry Month: Day 5)

Stars mill about in subdued conversation
pausing to wink as they speak over drinks.
Glasses and laughter comingle together
and glittering light twinkles in their champagne.
The great luminary they wait for delays,
preparing his august appearance tonight.
A hush stills the crowd in advance of his coming
and all watch the carpeted stair he will climb.
Announced by his glowing attendants, he's seen!
A crescent of smile slowly rises to view.
Then, stately advancing, he enters the hall
and graces it with his full presence at last.
So noble he stands! So great and so grand!
The stars join in bright, meteoric applause,
and usher him into the welcoming throng
'mid the coattails of comets and spiraling gowns.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Winding (National Poetry Month: Day 4)

Out west the roads shoot straight and true
like sunlight through the day.
The land's as smooth as evening sky,
wide as the milky way.

The roads in Georgia twist and swerve
'round hills and over bends.
You never see past that next curve,
much less your journey's end.

But what I once thought limiting-
those hundred thousand trees-
I've now seen dressed in shades of Spring,
in variegated greens!

Such wonder! when at every turn
a forest comes in view
that with each winding, weaving step
seems to be birthed anew.

A desert road is beautiful
with stunning, open space.
Its grandeur is of sunsets, stars, 
horizons to be chased.

But life is lived much closer here
with beauty all around;
a path too straight can't find the things
close by that should be found.

Were I a road in Georgia's hills
I too would twine about
to see the trees' green tapestry
link hills and streams and clouds.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stormcrowds (National Poetry Month: Day 3)

Hello there, please don't mind
me pressed against your side
beneath this cafe awning.

It's fun, since you're so pleasant,
to have another present
who recently was jogging.

So many passers-by
take refuge from the sky
and push us close together.

Who knew this many folk 
unhappily half-soaked
could hide here from the weather?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thunderstorm (National Poetry Month: Day 2)

Gray tour buses pause,
   swing wide their doors.
Their passengers crowd out,
   pour down the steps,
   press past each other,
   murmur in the dark.
Flashbulbs pop,
   illuminate the night,
and everybody cheers.


Two more links for your #poemaday benefit:

  • Robert Brewer at Poetic Asides is posting daily poetry prompts along with his poem. Submit your 5 best at the end of the month to his contest.
  • Big Tent Poetry posts poetry prompts every Monday and provides a place to share your works.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Poems (National Poetry Month: Day 1)

Roses are red,
Violets are blue
April Fool's poems
Don't have to rhyme.


The first day of April each year
is a time that all pranksters should fear.
Their jokes, since expected,
are quickly detected,
and the struggle for laughs is severe.


I discovered that Serena of is hosting a blog tour for National Poetry Month this year. In addition to blogs participating in #poemaday, the tour will include reviews of poets and poetry collections. She also keeps a "MrLinky" url collection for sites participating in the tour. I encourage you to explore some of the creative space out there.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

National Poetry Month: Announcement

April is National Poetry Month!

For you, that means you have a reason to make extra time for reading poetry and maybe writing some of your own. For the Thought Orchard, it means I'll be posting something every day through the month of April. I will try to include a mix of my own material and works by other poets.

This will be a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it. I hope you are too!

While we wait for April to roll in, take a look at these creative poem ideas. I'm sure to try at least some of them this month. To find out what poetry month events are happening where you live, check out the map over at

Book Spine Poems
Magnetic Poetry: Homework Excuses (among others)
Poetry Idea Engine

This is the official poster for NPM 2011:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Meeting of Hearts

Written on the occasion of my sister's wedding, March 26, 2011.(If the type is too small, click for a larger image.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Skin Deep

My grandfather carried a pocket mirror
so that he could comb his hair when the clouds rained,
or the wind blew. Between houses he would check,
just to be sure he looked his best.
Pencils, encyclopedias, brooms, radios, soap.
Didn't matter what he sold, he kept his hair set right.

Even when I knew him he kept that mirror
right there in his breast pocket.
Between grandchildren, between meals,
he would slick a hand over his bald skin,
smooth his eyebrows, check his teeth.
One time his dark hands held it up for me to see myself.
"You look just like the princess you're named for."
And I made him tell me again
how his grandmother's mother's grandmother
found the watering hole that saved her village.

Is it true, what they say about beauty?
I hope so; I hope my whole life can be
as many generations deep as my skin.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sham Rock

The gift o' gab, they say, will be given
to the man who kisses the cloch
that is set in the tower o' the castle na blarnan
an hour or two out of Cork.

This kiss will confer on his lips and his tongue
such a marvelous bright eloquence
that men wise and old, girls pretty and young,
will bow to his excellent sense.

Well I've been to the castle and bent o'er the wall,
kissed the rock and made my way home.
But a blush from my lass and a glare from her pa
were all I got from that blarney stone!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

A side note related to the title, but not the poem:
Do you remember when Ms. Frizzle assigned her students to bring rocks to school? Arnold brought muddy styrofoam, and someone else brought a chunk of concrete. That dismal showing precipitated a Magic School Bus trip to the center of the earth to see what real rocks are.

It turns out that if they'd combined their forces, they might have fooled her. (Okay, nobody can trick Ms. Frizzle, but another teacher maybe.) Many decorative rocks on movie sets and in fish tanks are not rocks at all but styrofoam covered with a thin layer of concrete. Need a faux rock? A quick google search will net hundreds of how-to instructions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


grey immobile cinderblocks
shifting nothing but their eyes
looking sideways to ensure
no one else is out of place

this preserves the smooth flat face
otherwise the wall itself
might come crashing down

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Quite the Character

I was thinking about some of the books I've read and loved in the past year. Some stuck with be because of the story or the wordcraft, but a few made an impression because of an amazing character. Here are my gold, silver, and bronze medal winners in order:
  1. Jenny Next (First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde) - Jenny is the daughter of heroine Thursday Next, and she is by far the most compelling character of the year. Jenny is the one who shows the reader just how vulnerable the Next family is and how very much they love each other. I can hardly wait for the next book in the series (#6)
  2. ---------- (The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson) - I'm not going to tell you the character's name. This person appears repeatedly in the book, but it isn't until very late in the story that you discover they are a chilling and frightening villain. Reading that reveal gave me shivers, and I could only stare at the page. Then I had to go back and look for everywhere their influence appeared.
  3. Charlie Chaplin (Sunnyside by Glen David Gold) - Charlie and his fellow protagonists in this masterpiece of historical fiction are intensely human. I cared about Charlie because I saw what it cost him to try to be better. When he was down I cheered him on, even when he had brought it all on himself.
Who were your most powerful characters this year?

Saturday, February 26, 2011


When the hurricane hits,
the governor goes up in her helicopter
to see what is left of her state.
When a tornado touches down,
the mayor surveys the damage
and declares a state of emergency.

But no federal relief can mend
this disaster that used to be
a conversation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Up Holstered

The old armchair slouches in the corner
like a gunslinger who knows the sherriff ain't around
and no one else goin' dare look him in the face.
Grizzled and worn, he's scarred in places
where the stuffin's been beaten out of him
a time or two.
His skin may sag, but he's firm where it counts.

Never done a day o' honest work,
but his reputation is earned
and he don't have to worry none
about folks questioning his place.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Love Letter

It was beautiful to talk to you tonight, 
to remember in your voice the reasons that I love you.
I told you things I didn't know I thought
until I said them,
and things I'd thought but been afraid to say.

I want to find a way to tell you, 
a way to let this truth from my heart
wander into your ears--
that you are the best, most beautiful woman in the world.

In you I've found someone who can speak to me purely,
someone with a soul brighter than starshine,
cleaner than dew.

So on this day when Valentines
are chosen, I must ask,

May I be yours?


Tumbling in the heat of weekly work,
My thoughts are teased away by blowing wind
And scatter who-knows-where into the breeze.

Moments that are left behind are bald and bare,
Steadily thinning to the point of threadlessness--
Hardly enough to wrap around myself.

Eventually I find where they collect,
Mashed together up against the screen
Of two o'clock p.m. on Saturday.

The weekend is the lint trap of my life.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fate of the Gringet

When swingle-soft the orlep dropped
in quel so lim and lawny
that every silthered wendrup spurled
into its chuv-warmed krommy,

that very eve, 'twixt nilfumtode
and bright Algrinna's dunning,
through orlep quel on feet bilel
five crubaden came running.

Their pindet toes with bluc below
spun fast and well apliffer.
No feathered axalema could
have stommed the groam-light swifter.

Gripped tight in her dungroothsome spurs
the lanxest crub held crimbley
a Gringet, braksafed in a skell
that blummed and glowed but dimly.

Bedeft the shuddling trees she raced,
yet in the dark behind her
a stravent jeening pierced the night
and shingered stones beside her.

A harbint-shadowed hulvakon
in furage gave them chase,
and now beneath the Yomin Falls
they saw its bulgoed face.

Three crubaden turned to this foe,
while two yet vattered on,
bearing the Gringet closer to
the great Valuminon.

When wetly gluddering tunches stilled
and skeens ceased echoing,
a wounded crub belumbered slow
and lozie from the stream.

'Tis said that with quellerience
he trojeled 'til he found,
beneath six days of orlep fall,
a skell upon the ground.

Crushed into filuvent dust,
its blum and glow long spent,
a single skine alone remained--
a tragic recompense.

Of crubaden there was no sign
but that the skine was thrust
beneath a sheltering beleg-root
grown o'er with nilomust.

He pulled it free with shullent arms,
and seven tearful eyes
saw that the broken skell was shaped
like blaive before moonrise.

Then swingle-soft the orlep dropped
in quel so lim and lawny
that every silthered wendrup spurled
into its chuv-warmed krommy.

As I'm sure you've guessed, this tale is written in the spirit of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece Jabberwocky, but with what I feel is a touch of Tolkein.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Oh no!

When I write, inspiration comes from different sources for different stories. For poems I usually start with a single line and let the rest aggregate around it. For stories it is frequently a character or a dialogue sketch. Other times I am excited by an idea for a magic system. But in almost every case I have difficulty assigning titles.

Usually, I write a piece first and then try to name what I've written. Sometimes that is easy, and sometimes the title is the hardest part of the piece. Only occasionally have I started a piece with the title firmly in place. One of those is my current work in progress, a short story about a cat that I have chosen to call "Luckless Douglas."

That is why, even though I haven't even finished the first draft, I was upset when I found this rather adorable picture book.

David Melling, you stole my rhyme!
Okay, it's not an exact match. I admit I'm being irrational here. Yes, you thought of it years before I did. But that's the point--I'm no longer as original as I thought.

Are there any other ___-less Douglas books out there?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why I'm Smiling Today

 Through morning rain a wakeful light expands
diffuse and gentle as the soft'ning gray
that furrows rich and pregnant oe'r the day,
so confident in sure, capable hands.

The air alive with smells that dance and sway,
with sounds washed clean of dust and healed of scars,
contains the strength of seeds, of unseen stars,
the wealth of wind that breath alone can weigh.

There's music in the mist no tune can mar
and calls to mind the power of the sea
endowing with a calm fertility
each motion, thought, and moment that is ours.

Suffused with this same light, this air, this song
I can't but smile, and breathe, and hum along.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Some time ago I was told that there were more public libraries than McDonald's restaurants in America. The assertion made me feel good about our country, and I've told a lot of other people the same thing without ever taking the time to confirm that it is true. Well, at long last I have done the necessary internet searching, and my optimism was justified. There are, in fact, more libraries. How many more? Read on!

First, the competition. How many McDonald's restaurants are there in the United States? At last count we had 12,804, which is just under half the world's supply. This amounts to 1 store for about every 23,000 Americans.
Note that this is comparable to other uber-popular stores like Starbucks (which has 11,168 locations), and a lot more than the total number of bowling alleys (just over 7,000), or Walmart-owned stores (4,404).

By comparison, how many libraries are there? The American Library Association, whose business it is to know such things, reports a total of 16,671 public library locations (plus over 850 bookmobiles). So there are about 4000 more places that will lend you a book than sell you a Big Mac, and that is a heartening thought. (You can check out to find the ones near you.)

But it gets better. You see, that's just public libraries. Think about the 3,827 college and university libraries, with a combined collection of over 880 million books! And the surely the Library of Congress has to count for more than just one, since its collection alone is more than 24 million materials. And there are a smattering of nearly 10,000 libraries in other categories, such as the ones named after US presidents.

The real weight of our libraries in the United States, though, is the 99,180 academic libraries in the public and private schools. That's right, one hundred thousand libraries, full of books right at the fingertips of our students.

All told, that's 122,101 libraries, one for every 2500 people in the US. Isn't that something to restore faith in our culture? I certainly think so.

(images used without permission)