Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Cat Writes Poetry

I was writing a poem yesterday and I stepped away to do something, refill my coffee or whatever, leaving the cat Katie alone in the office.

What I’d written was a perfectly nice little poem, and I’d been chugging along on it just fine. When I returned with my coffee or whatever, I found this other poem on my screen. I would like to add that I don’t talk this way or cuss this way, and I apologize in advance for her language.

Mamacita Done Gone

so there we was, her on her last legs
gaspin’ like a fish outta water

and me like I knew sometin’
rubbin’ on her bony old hand

tellin’ her C’mon, leggo, leggo,
S’awright, I gotcher back,

like that shit mattered, see?
like she could hear me, right?

when I knew all along she weren’t there
and her hand was fuckin’ empty, man,

just an empty sack-a bones
and she ain’t hearin’ none-a this shit

cuz she is gone
and this here hand-a mine

didn’t hold her good enough
to help.

shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit mattered shit matteredQAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Fairy Tale, Dashed

'T'were hot in the redwood forest, darlin's, and very HOT here at home on the coast of California. I read a bit, wrote a bit, dozed some, ate some, hiked some, ogled LOTS of lovely river stones and brought a few home.

While I lark about in Big Sur, Rachel takes TFE's Poetry Bus on its world tour. She asks for a poetic version of children's stories. Here would be my take on that, and my inventive fellow riders will be here.

The Last of the Hard-Lost Fairy Tales

Who be I
that dreamed of more than ashes
that from them ashes fashioned
that coach/that gown/them crystal shoes
what she would later slyly lose
(what left Prince Charming asking whose)
that waltzed within them castle walls
that cinder girl that wowed them all
yeah, that wench that won the charming prince—
she done been happy ever since?

I be unconvinced
that they be times when magic pass
and vision don’t return to ash
that wanting get what waiting won’t:
Ain’t saying that it can’t.
Am saying that it don’t.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Starving for Love

I dived into a frenzy of editing my most recent poetry manuscript this past week. It was a total blast, maybe because it had absolutely nothing to do with my mother’s business.

I have a file for all the poems that don’t make the final cut. One of those caught my eye. Written 23 years ago as a relationship came to a cold-hearted end, it struck me as having a decent bone structure and a pretty universal theme, those lonely nights of lying awake and knowing it’s all gone wrong. So I got out my paring knife and started carving.

It ended up being exactly 55 words long, including the title, and that made me think of the mighty G-Man and his Mr. Knowitall’s Flash Friday 55 stories, which you can find here. I’m away in the forest, sleeping on the ground, without cell phone or wi-fi.

The Starvation Diet

I dream of Grandma’s pie.
Love lies at the bottom of it.

Some nights I lie in the dark
staring at your back, aware
how gaunt I've grown
from an absence of pie.

Where lies love? I wonder
at your tight-lipped back.
As always, I let the silence
deepen, afraid to know.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Off to Organize the Forest

The trees and the road to Big Sur along the California coast.

At last, we’re leaving everything behind for four days of R&R in a redwood forest overlooking the Pacific.

I see a hospice bereavement counselor once a week now, and she browbeats me: Stop managing everything! You’re always organizing! Organizing your thoughts, organizing information, organizing your feelings! Take a rest!

So I’ve organized all the camping gear and food, organized care for the animals, organized my suitcase, and we’re off to camp in a tent at Big Sur, one of my favorite places on earth. I’m taking Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, a couple of poetry journals, and a writing assignment, so I’ve organized my literary materials too.

I have to go organize the ice chests now. I’ll leave you with a few glimpses of Big Sur. Have yourselves a wonderful weekend!

Monday, September 20, 2010

This Is About Love, Not the Weather

I’m disconcerted. The season changed today. That abruptly. Yesterday it was over 90 degrees here. This morning at 6:30, the sun hadn’t dawned yet. Autumn happened overnight.

This has been the strangest season. The weather was odd, cooler than usual. The roses bloomed all spring and summer long, not taking their customary July and August break. The dahlias don’t know what to do. Every single one of the two-year-olds looks like crap. Only the hardiest of old faithfuls thrived. I made a choice back in June: Not once did I fertilize. “You’re fending for yourselves,” I told them. “Do your best.”

I’m a competitive gardener. I tend flowers carefully so I can enter them in the regional fair each year. This year, when I looked at the entry forms in June, I had a strong premonition, precognition, intuition—it told me to take a break. My mother started dying during the 10-day fair.

I’m thankful that I have flowers at all.

Today I’m hopping on the Totalfeckineegit’s Poetry Bus (go here for the tour). Our task is weddings, not the weather. Yesterday I edited my entire manuscript of poems and discovered not one sweet love poem in it, although there is a sexy poem about the weather.

So I wrote a poem suitable for speaking at a wedding, if it were my wedding and not your wedding.

Without End

I don’t love you
as your dog loves you
with mindless devotion
I love you
with every firing synapse
relishing your humanity
aware of my own

I don’t love you
as your daughter loves you
with blinding need
I love you
with passion on purpose
and I choose you
with eyes wide open

I don’t love you
as your mother loves you
with future hopes
I love you
with a blend of flesh
and mystical not-flesh
exactly as you are.

I love you
with the ferocity of lions
with the immensity of space
My love for you
is immeasurable
forever, amen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Play Editor, Please

I'm looking for input. Tonight I'm doing a reading of selected poems about my mother and the last months of her battle with Alzheimer's Disease. My selection needs to be reduced by two poems. Which two of these do you suggest I cut? No need to explain unless you'd like to. A simple "X and X" would be a big help. [See my note below for a tally of the votes at 5:25 p.m.]

Alzheimer’s Poetry
From a Line Uttered By My Mother

Oh I can smell the sound
a freesia makes in its sweet purity
It is the sound of all life has to offer
in one fragrant package of petals
It is the sound of roots growing
deeper, the sound of joy,
the smell of music swelling
on the breeze from the west

I Tried Laying Hands on My Mother

On the bony forehead rests a hank of hair
Cheekbones loom over a sagging chin
and a gaping slash of mouth

I brush back the thatch of white
But it falls through my fingers
I touch the knobby bones that rise
like hills above the sunken cheeks
Every movement of my hand is forced
against a tide

Suddenly I remember my daughter
at the age of five, lying on her bed
with the nightlight on. Her eyelashes
make little wings on her cheeks
I draw on her soft face with a finger
and I sing a monotonous song:
I’m skiing down your nose and skiing
round your mouth …I’m skiing round
your cheeks and up around your eyeballs

She lies still as a statue
while my fingertip skis over her face
and I love it, she loves it, she asks
for this. And this I can’t give
to my mother, lying still as a statue
on her bed. My hand will not allow it.

Mom Says Goodbye

After Alzheimer’s destroyed you,
you had one glowing day, clear as sunshine,
when your blue eyes twinkled at me.
Your face was beautiful in its ancient joy.
You reached up and cupped my face
in your hands, smiling as you studied me.
It’s wonderful, you said, and I knew
what you meant.


For a moment before
I asked you what was wrong
a sensation of otherness
swept through my blood
and my hand rose to stop
the words. Call it intuition,
that odd foreknowledge
of my life about to break
in half.
But my hand stopped
midway to my mouth
and the words tumbled out.
Why? Was I suddenly brave?
If so, courage deserted me
when I saw your head begin
to turn and your mouth moving.
A suitcase swam through the air
on flippers like a seal,
caught you on your forehead
and knocked you to the floor.
It swam out the open window
and I never saw it again
although I called and called

Your Dance of the Final Days

Your chest rises and falls rhythmically, I see
glancing at the narrow bed across the room.
It is anyone’s room, a blue sea of carpet,
a drawn window shade, but here is your old
cedar chest, scarred by the memories inside.
Here is your plywood sewing cabinet,
crafted by your father, its varnish worn.
Here I sit in your squeaky office chair
with the slash of duct tape on its vinyl seat
and its rusty chrome wheels. I watch you
sleep, your labored breathing drowned
by the hum and hiss of oxygen, afraid to look
away. The bedclothes might stop rising
and you slip off, me unaware, intolerable
thought. I want to see you should you slide
from the bed and do a jig across the floor.
I never saw you dance in all these years
but there’s no telling what you’ll do.
You have surprised us all before.
You surprise me now with your tenacity
my skeletal lioness, chomping the neck
of the very last giraffe.

“Do Not Resuscitate”

When you left, you took
my vital signs with you
and I arrived at the rest
of my life without a pulse.

Pneumonia Sucks

1 a.m.
fever rising
rattle my bones
rolling, moaning
lungs gasp
like broken bellows
no one knows
I crouch here
on the couch
everyone sleeps
safe, secure
like they were
last week while
you and I
fought for your death
three long nights
days that bled
into each other
strange I should
fight to breathe now
as if my lungs
with yours
they re-enact
your last act
but I realize
how much I gave you
simply being

In the End

The ocean’s gray furrowed brow
reminds me of my brother’s face
when he turned to look unseeing
through her window
the day our mother died

Something marched across his face
in regimental rows, something quiet
but relentless, a failing general
reviewing his troops in calm despair
before that final, inevitable loss.


Thank you so much for considering my question and writing such thoughtful replies.

I don't know how other poets know when they've found the words and images that give a reader the experience that matters most to me: that sense of having participated in something so powerful, they feel it, and they feel it within the context of their own lives.

I don't know what happens in your head when you read my poems. I don't how to find out except to put it out there and ask. You've been generous with your time, and I'm grateful. You told me what I asked to know. See comments for the vote.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My 40 Days Are Done

Beware: Strange post follows.

Yesterday was the 40th day post-mortem of my mother. In an attorney’s office, I officially “relinquished possession,” as one person described my seven years of watching over my mother and her affairs.

Forty days is spiritually significant. So is the sum of seven years.

Forty is the time of testing. It’s the number of the days of rain that caused the Flood on which Noah’s Ark sailed alone. It’s the number of years for wandering in the desert without a home. It’s the length of days allotted to the devil in the temptation of Christ. It has been my time of testing.

Seven is the time of completion. In seven “days” God made the earth and saw that it was good. The walls of Jericho fell after the Israelites’ seventh trip around. A duration of seven is used in Biblical prophesy over and over to signify when an event will be completed. For me, the seventh year, when my mother died, is when my work is finished.

Now this chapter of my life has ended. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning thinking of that. I’m free, or I will be, when God has healed my hurt. In one fell swoop, I wrote a long, releasing poem (a section of which follows), and as I finished, there landed outside the window, like a God shot, a spotted towhee I'd never seen before (I found the above photo on the Web). My side of the street is clean, for now at least.

(A selection from)
In the Halls of Justice

They ask me why she left so little
There must be more, and if there’s not
I am blamed for having squandered
or absconded with the lot.

May they now get their fair share
of all the treasures left behind:
the love of books, the love of trees,
the satisfaction found in work,

The child’s faith that in God’s world
all is right, and all forgiven,
the precious laughter she was given
when the intellect was gone,

The certain knowledge she had sinned
but had atoned and now walked lightly
on a journey filled with hope,
the thankful heart, who thanked her helpers

On her deathbed in those awful hours,
who looked at me with shining joy
when she was just a bag of bones
and said how wonderful it was—

Though what it was, I’ll never know
unless I walk the road she walked.
My share is this: I stood as witness
to her effort in the final task

God put before her, and I saw
my mother go where no one goes
except the bravest: into battle,
stripped of weapons, to face a foe

Who killed her slowly.
I stayed to watch each bitter slice

Carve away each piece of her.
I heard her shriek. I heard her laugh.
I wrote down every word she spoke.
I watched as her unfailing faith

Renewed her strength each morning.
I leave them in the Halls of Justice
seeking justice from my mother.
I leave them, far, far richer than

They are, because she gave me
certainty that though I’ve sinned
I have atoned and now walk lightly
on a journey filled with hope.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Paper: The Miracle Product

When I was a little kid, I got hold of some money once. I bought a yellow binder filled with lined paper, and in the back of my parents’ pickup truck, I wrote my first poem. It went something like this:

I wish
I had a fish
In a dish.

It’s part of my lifelong love affair with paper and pen. One of my earliest memories is of writing long scribbly lines on piece of paper, imitating my mother’s handwriting. I felt proud to have done what she did, and I was hurt when she said it wasn’t “real” writing.

Mom told me once that I habitually tore paper into bits, which I folded and tucked away in hiding places. That behavior concerned her so she took me to consult with someone. When she told me this, I was an adolescent and she was explaining that I’d rejected her all my young life. The paper-hiding thing was one of a long line of incidents stretching from my refusal to nurse as an infant to my current rebellious behavior. It all struck me as unfair. Later I understood that it was unfair, and I understood that all of us instinctively blame others for our feelings unless we learn to accept responsibility for them.

But I digress. Paper and I go back a long way. I remember once spending my meager childhood funds on a business receipt tablet, the kind with a sheet of treated blue paper that you inserted between the white receipt and the yellow one.

I’ve always liked blank paper booklets. I have lots of tablets tucked away in the house. I like blank journal books and composition books.

Now, on computers, an empty Word document is a virtual piece of paper. But so far, virtual paper hasn’t replaced real paper in my life. I still keep the tablets. In fact, two of them are in residence right next to the computer, along with pens. They’re handy for making notes, practicing the composition of a sentence, or composing a poem.

This is the miracle of paper: Blank paper invites you to say something. It invites you to use words to capture ideas, like you use bait to capture fish. Thank God we invented paper. Rocks just don’t have the same appeal.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Discipline Is Work

All human beings have an innate resistance to obedience.

General George S. Patton

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Recipe for Disaster

Put off everything with a due date that is NOT today.

Buy some small chocolate bundt cakes, drizzled with chocolate icing and studded with chocolate chips, from Trader Joe’s grocery store or anywhere else.

Start a big project that is unrelated to anything with a due date.

Attend to a few personal needs. Examine your wrinkles closely.

Put a bundt cake in a bowl, lather it with whipped cream, and enjoy while working on the project.

Take a break to piddle around. Consider the things with due dates. Vow to do them.

Return to the random project. Ponder potato chips.

Take a long phone call. Announce you must do things with due dates.

Drop everything to organize your 2008 income tax file.

Return to the project and discovered it has multiplied itself. In a burst of self-discipline, find somewhere to stow it.

Go floss your teeth.

Eat some cheese and crackers while deciding which of the things with due dates you feel like starting. Then edit some old photo files.

When you’re cross-eyed with fatigue, close up shop. Vow that you will do things with due dates. Tomorrow.

Friday, September 3, 2010

In the Face of Dread

(I'll get to these flowers later)

Here's a late Friday Flash 55 piece, a tale told in exactly 55 words, hosted by the G-man who doesn't know the meaning of defeat:

The ocean’s gray furrowed brow
reminds me of my brother’s face
when he turned toward me to look
unseeing through her window
the day our mother died

Something marched across his face
in regimental rows, something quiet
but relentless as a failing general
reviewing his troops in calm despair
before that final and inevitable loss.

(Earlier in the day)

This morning is a series of stark contrasts. Starting with the micro and moving to the macro, inside me is both dread and willingness. I dread the crap that absorbed my attention yesterday and I'm willing for today to be different.

In the world right around me, neglected undone work hollers, but amidst that is a bouquet of flowers from the garden, quietly resting in their own loveliness.

The world at large clamors with contentiousness. I hear it. But my meditation book contained a different thought:

"Never yield to weariness of the spirit. At times, the world's cares and distractions will intrude and the spirit will become weak. At times like this, carry on and soon the spirit will become strong again. God's spirit is always with you, to replenish and renew. None ever sincerely sought God's help in vain. Physical weariness and exhaustion make a time of rest and communion with God more necessary. When you are overcome by temporary conditions which you cannot control, keep quiet and wait for the power of God's spirit to flow."

In the contrasts that face me today, I think I'll choose the quiet path. I believe I need to rest in the everlasting sheltering arms of the Most High. I pray your day has good in it, and I pray that I can help someone today.

(Postscript 11 p.m.: God answers prayers. I had a miraculous day, and during it, I helped someone. Yay, God. You are, like, totally epic, man!)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


My owner

My desk

My country

A Wordless Wednesday post

Albert Einstein Quotes