Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thirty Days of Poetry

I decided to write and post a daily poem for 30 consecutive days for the following reasons:

1. I'd fallen out of love with writing. It had become another pressure, instead of a happy wandering. I've been wrangling with the same novel for three years, and I thought it had beaten me. I didn't even care that it had beaten me, particularly, but I did care that I didn't seem to care.

Poetry is the purest form of writing for me. If it couldn't pull me back, then maybe I wasn't really a writer anymore.

2. I use my slowness as an excuse not to write. Writing can feel like digging to me. Or rather, the process of editing and revision feels that way, which often segues into paralysis. I usually tackle writing--even poetry--from the left side of my brain because it feels safer. I fall too much in love with an idea, a construction. I don't trust my instincts. I make things complicated because I'm drawn to metaphor and puzzles (not to mention second-guessing myself), forgetting that simplicity is the poet's most sincere and transparent friend.

Being forced to pen and reshape a poem every day seemed like a good way of combatting this tendency to fuss things up, if for no other reason than I wouldn't have the time to be as clever as I might wish.

3. Winter. This is my worst time of year for being withdrawn and contemplative. Anyone can write a poem a day in the springtime; they practically float from the trees. To push them out during the darkest stretch of winter seemed especially challenging, but also like a good way of channeling some of that introspection and making me appreciate that bleakness can still be beautiful, especially with so much love and good fortune at my side.

4. Photos. I am no great photographer, but I had a collection of photos I hadn't used on the blog before (in addition to some that I had) that I had forgotten all about. I really enjoyed taking my camera out when I was blogging more often, and I wanted to reclaim that habit by pairing each new poem with a new or old photo.

So those were my reasons. (Actually, in no way did I reason this all out before impulsively making the decision to do it. But we can all pretend.)

And how did the experiment go?

1. I did fall in love with writing again. I also hated it again. I'm pretty sure this is normal. I'm pretty sure I've always felt this way, no matter my tendency to romanticize the past.

Writing a poem a day is no great feat. A lot of people do this without any fanfare. But for me, it was hard. Yet maybe not as hard as I expected? I tried not to place ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself. There were only a handful of days in which I struggled to come up with an idea or finish by a particular time. Overall, I surprised myself. Which is always good.

2. I did not overcome my tendency to complicate things, nor did I always present my ideas in a clear, transparent light. The rough drafts came easy. But I'm still doing a lot of tinkering. The time constraint led me to post a lot of poems I wasn't particularly happy with. I tried to pretend I didn't mind. Then I tinkered some more the next day.

I still struggle with expressing myself without embarrassment or regret.

Room to grow, for sure.

3. Winter is my bitch now.

Okay, but seriously: some of these poems could use more cowbell spring.

4. My camera is feeling well-loved again. Mission accomplished.

(Random spider pic)

I suppose I should make a good charge at finishing that novel now. I'm not sure what's causing the delay. I was sort of hoping this poetry diversion would offer some enlightenment on the subject.

I think it's the distance between my vision and the execution. I want it to be perfect, and it's not. The pursuit of perfection is not only the enemy of the good, but sometimes, the authentic. I can't stand my own contrivances, yet what is a novel but an author's contrived manipulations of character and plot? What is revision but the endless second-guessing of your gut instincts, the very thing I'm trying to be more accepting of in myself?  I get tangled up in such silliness.

But that's likely another blog post.

Thank you for reading any part of this month's output. I really do appreciate your kindness and support.

Monday, February 18, 2013


From mountaintop
to mountaintop

we embark on the path
of survival,

searching for the guru
who will grant us eternal arrival.

Instead, we scramble upwards
to enjoy the view

before we start in wondering

how the next summit's vista
could be better.

But time's face will slowly condense
into a single, fixed point

where contour lines grow infinite,
and we'll see our mountains

for the ring they've carved,
with an ego-sized crater

keeping the middle,
cradling all that we have sown.

So when I step
on my shadow's heels

and my feet shuffle off
the eroding ledge,

I hope I will wish
for dandelion wisps,

and nothing more,
to greet me in the valley.

Sunday, February 17, 2013



You are a piece
of non-fiction
I take for a poem

when it's just
you and I

and you're showing
me something
you think is awesome

because you want me
to agree it's awesome

because you think it,
because it is.

And you know what?

It is awesome.
Thank you.

And these blocks
you've started stacking
around your 8-year-old
emerging person
are not enough now
(or ever, Buster)
to keep me at bay,

as I gather you close
and kiss you defenseless
while you're looking
at your thing
and I am looking
at you

because truth
is a passion
passed down
and returned,
a toy way better
if played together

--a heart with wings--

some crazy awesome.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


If I could pick up
all the heads-up
Lincoln pennies

from every
parking lot
food court
truck stop
farmer's market
wishing fountain
in America

and invest them all
in the man with the
cardboard diploma:

WW II Veteran
17 years sober
Will work for food

then I might put
more faith
in superstition

and give his
"God Bless You"
greater currency

Friday, February 15, 2013


With my head
on your shoulder

I watch
the moon
and the stars
and the clouds
take flight

through a fogged-up windshield

on the eve of Earth's

we ride our pocket
of brightness

listening to
a music
of corduroy
and nylon

holding our breaths
as the wheels lift
and dip

to the whims
of a country byway

across spacetime's
extended grace

Thursday, February 14, 2013


In our other world,
you blur the lines
and make me forget
what day it is

with your eyes
and your fingers
and your breath
mixed with mine

like the paints
of a canvas
draining back
to the palette

a beautiful mess
of reciprocated Pollock,
crimson drips and
violet blossom
and colors we never
thought to invent

without the shape
of our love
running off
the edges

to be caught
in the cross
of this lovesick

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Every night,
in the field by her house
she dined with the moon
as her only companion

excepting the nights
when the moon was new
or the sky cloud-smothered
and then the rain
became her soup
and her eyes turned
dull and starless.

But when her friend
was at his fattest,
the food did flow
and it was difficult to say
where her skin began
and where the moonlight ended.

She ate for two
during Harvest Moon
to keep from feeling lonely,
because for all his brightness,
her mate was tongueless,
and the land he lit
was desolate-cold.

Until this year,
this month,
this phase,
this day,
this holy,

When over the hill
there came a person,
half-starved by his search
for love and knowledge,
as near to bitter as
the cloves he gnashed.

They were not young--
did you think they would be?--
for one shouldn't put youth
in such Gothic settings,
as the young and beautiful
are not keen on solitude
or so likely to don the eccentric's hat.

But both were beautiful
in the then and there,
gobsmacked and moonstruck
and dumb with shyness,
each sore afraid,
separated by nothing
but a table's bounty.

He spoke.
She smiled.

He spoke again

while the moon laid low
'round his head
like a lantern, a halo,
a shimmering egg.

Her smile cracked,
breaking up the crickets'
one-note sonata.
She patted the seat next to her.
He took the hint.

And once they'd finally
finished their feast
and upon the moment
when the man did reach
to bring her lips toward his,

all the moonlight she'd swallowed
in the harvest of years
bloomed from the kiss
as lilies-of-the-valley.

And from that day on,
they took their meals
beneath a yellow sun
(or a yellower umbrella)
and the lilies were their children,
playing at their feet

tossing in a sea
of their tranquil dreams,
while the moon looked on
from a wider berth,
perpetually full,

Monday, February 11, 2013


Children should be seen
and not heard.

It's not that he says it with the
same conviction.

But my dad will still bring it,
like a Victorian poker chip
no one's cashing in anymore
that nonetheless, he feels compelled to play.

It's in his blood, these iron spades.

But they're not in mine--
it took years for me to flush them free--
and it's with this distance that I weigh
the lightening of a man
in his grandchildren's hands.

The generational shift
is most likely a cause
and I don't mean to pretend
that the thaw is profound, but--

There is a softening now of his hardest edges,
the wryest indication of amusement and tolerance,
as if his grandchildren's cheerfulness
and frank expectation of the same from the universe

were a land he might choose to vacation in,
before returning, a little sunburnt, to his solitude.

And even I, who in spite of his love,
feared this man for most of my life--
not for any specific unkindness
but because he seemed to expect me to

Even I, occasionally--
if I lay down my arms--
will gamble across the rusty river
on the little bridge that time built.

Sunday, February 10, 2013



You could be her scarlet

or his
red badge of courage,

their Sunday sup of

against His fiery
Second Coming.

Out, damned spot,
foul fruit of Eden!  

Begone, blood lips
of all ye fair maidens.

Unless I, in turn,
be the worm

then you are a red wheel

or you are none of

Saturday, February 9, 2013


I'm wiped free
of words today

but I'm taking the kids
to the library later

and I'll get a
fill-up there.

Say . . .

If you could be filled
with only one story

which would it be
and why?

A mystery that teases
your cerebrum?

A romance that wears
your heart on its sleeve?

A thriller that strips your nerves
down to spark plugs?

A children's classic
all stained with laughter?

You refuse to answer?

Well, I can see your point,
but . . .

if the idea of a book
isn't enough
to get my juices

Friday, February 8, 2013


We're each of us
a bird on its tree
watching the grasses
give into the breeze,
catching our allowance
of gold on the wing,
grasping that branch
but as sure as a leaf,
calling out for the one
or ones

who'll sing
the same songs
as we

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Nick Drake still life*

From the morning,

pink moon reaches

for her golden crown

in the northern sky

Day is done,

river man and

his black-eyed dog

are making their way

to blue

Time has told me
you're a rare, rare find

I hope your ocean
will find its shore,

poor boy

*Titles and lyrics belong to Nick Drake (click on links for that song's video)


Nick Drake died in 1974 at the age of 26 from taking an overdose of anti-depressants. He wasn't famous while he lived. He is more famous now, in part because of a 1999 VW commercial in which his song "Pink Moon" was featured.

It's not clear whether Drake intended to kill himself or not. But more than any other artist, I have the sense that he was never wholly here to begin with. There is something so hauntingly alone about him. In songs like "From The Morning" and "Northern Sky," this etherealness breathes like sunshine. In other songs, like "Black-Eyed Dog" and "Way to Blue," he is buried so deep inside himself you have to climb back out after listening.

Yet for me, he evades tag words like "brooding" and "tragic" because his lyrics don't succumb to self-pity or despair-for-despair's sake. They're honest and unflinching, not manipulative.

I love the guy. I love his sexless fragility inside the iron-rod conviction of his lyrics and guitar licks. Hearing his music gives me the same feeling as reading Keats does. I probably reach for him more than any other singer/songwriter, especially in the winter.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


after the Christmas lights
and before the thaw

a secret kiss

and snowflake

two cardinals
weaving romance

in dots and dashes

great staccato leaps
of burbling gossip

on a white parchment day
in the middle of a fairyland

I transcribe them faithfully

including an incredible bit
at the end
with a berry

Sunday, February 3, 2013


If you've ever
watched a child
watching a ball
skip like a stone or
take off like a rocket,
you could believe that

Sisyphus, broken by Zeus,
dispossessed of all ego,
slave to a route,

might find pleasure in
the act of watching his boulder,
with such thunder and fracas,

roll back down
its mountainside.

And taking this further,
perhaps it's not a stretch

to picture a sunset

or some such other
depression of time

wherein Man's exhaustion
caves in

only to lift him up again

whereupon his feet did follow
the rock's example,

bearing him down
at such terrific speeds

that Sisyphus was not


but merely a spoke of gravity,

his thoughts busy thinking:

This ain't so bad.

Beats being King, 
at any rate. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013


The evolution of youth
as a function of its environment--
the art of slicing and dicing 
our genes into acid-washed,
frayed-kneed mutations of cool--
can be most elegantly studied
by sequencing the posters
on the walls of a room. 

So if in middle school I was 
The Little Mermaid--
naive and sheltered, 
embarrassingly simple, really--
by college I had to be many things, 
simultaneously and emphatically:

Van Gogh,
Star Wars,
The X-Files,
and, of course, 
the irrepressible Jane Austen.

The key was to cover every inch
and leave no room for indecision. 

This self-curated,
iconographical assault
(now pinned to walls with
considerably more white space
via Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, etc.)
seemed to be saying,

"Here I am!
Feel free to read that Starry Night 
as a shorthand for Sarah.

(whoever that is . . .
get back to me later, maybe?) 

But I know I like these guys
as opposed to those.
They speak to me. 

Does one of them
(probably . . . no?)
speak to you
so we could talk
or something?"

These days, I favor Matisse, Picasso and the smiling faces of our kids, one of whom will pay me back someday for posting that picture of her cheesy poster when she's transitioned into her whatever's-the-2020-equivalent-of-Nirvana phase. Angry Birds, on the other hand, will stay eternally cool. 

Friday, February 1, 2013


February is bitterly
cold and mercifully
brief and burns like
a widow with her heart
torn open and her fingers
frostbitten and her face
in relief,

like she knows
the suggestion and
repression of form
is more blistering
to imagination
than suffocating grief.

And the man she mourns
might be any man
or Everyman
or St. Valentine himself,

but we will shiver like the opal
in her cameo
until the lion
roars for spring.