What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life? -Mary Oliver

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Penmanship

My father has made an odd request of his children this Christmas. He wants a handwritten letter from each of us telling  him what we've been doing. That's all he wants. People used to write letters, especially at Christmas and I think he misses it. My parents don't have a computer so it must seem like nobody is communicating anymore. The art of letter writing is fading from our curriculum. We don't have the mastery of language and penmanship of our ancestors. We think of our great grandparents as being unschooled but they could write circles around us and I wouldn't want to take any of them on in a debate.

There is a current article in The Guardian about the cognitive benefits of cursive writing. Many handwriting advocates and neuroscientists think that penmanship is still mightier than the keyboard, that mastering penmanship has certain cognitive benefits. This makes sense to me. Every letter on the keyboard requires the same action: peck peck peck, while each letter of the alphabet requires a different stroke, engaging our brains in deep thought.  It takes us several years to master this precise motor skill. Cursive writing might even stave off Alzheimer's, that dreaded disease that is predicted to affect 50% of the population by 2050.

The keyboard can't match the emotion of handwriting. As stated in this article, "Each persons' hand is different, the gesture is charged with emotion, lending it a special charm." Maybe this is why those little icons that show emotion were invented, to make up for the soulless keyboard.

So, as I sit down to write a letter to my dad, (even found a pad of unused stationery in a desk drawer) I thought I'd throw out a challenge to everyone. Write a letter to someone this Christmas. It'll make someone's day.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Them



photograph by Robert Doisneau

Oh, for war's sweet end,
to be grounded in home,
freed from the smells
of goreI mean glory.
We kiss and
we kiss
and would do it again
do it all over again,
not me, not us, but them
they'll do it again 
for there's always a them
a new wave of them
who yearn for the glory
of the lock and load,
for the trill of the bugle
and the fame of a kiss.
Again.

This image comes from Magpie Tales, the blog dedicated to honing the pens of poets and writers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Highest Form Of Art (and goodbye to the G-Man)

                       "If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything." - Mark Twain

I recently found an old journal from a creative writing class in college in which I jotted down everything that teacher said. She told us that the highest form of art is literature and all art is about loss. I didn't understand that at the time, but I wrote it down, sitting on the edge of my seat and taking it all in. It seemed deep, like the Albert Camus novel,The Plague, which my sister gave me to read when I was only thirteen. She had high hopes for me, and I knew I was supposed to like it, but I didn't understand it.

When my brother's house burned to the ground, I wrote a poem. When we found out a family member had cancer, I wrote a poem. When my mother broke her leg and my father couldn't get out of his chair, I wrote a poem. Driving home from the hospital and forgetting the order of the Sorrowful Mysteries, I wrote a poem.

I just found out this morning that Galen Hayes, known in the blog world as Mr. Knowitall, the host of the Friday Flash 55 I participated in for several years, has died.  In one of his last posts he wrote, "Thanksgiving is not about Black Friday sales, or kicking off the Christmas shopping frenzy, it's about family, friends, and the joy of living." I did not know Galen personally, yet felt I did. I sat here and cried for this man I never knew but who touched my life and encouraged me to write my best. I would write an eulogy in 55 words but it seems this would cheapen the loss his family must now live with.

I feel guilty, relying upon tragic events for inspiration, taking advantage of misfortune to compose a sonnet, using the pain of others as fodder for my writer's ambition, my selfish dream of one day being remembered.  Must we experience tragedy and hardship to write anything worth writing? Can a youth unbowed by life write anything that will last beyond their years?

And what about memoir? After writing one, will your family still talk to you? Will they smile when they see you, or will a cloud of hostility color your gatherings, making you an outlier at the table? As a writer, if we aren't telling the truth, is there any point in writing at all? In the back of this old bedraggled journal I'd scribbled, "Write the truth as you know it."  With memory such a fickle creature, that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Then there is also what Emily Dickinson so wisely said, "Tell the truth, but tell it slant."  I like that.  Goodbye Galen.  I will miss you.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hounds On The Loose (flash 55)

A pickup truck stops in the middle of the road.
Hounds loosed from the back,
buck their handlers, heels grounded.
The old man looks out his window and wonders
what they’re looking for in his ditch.
He gets his cane and lumbers to his feet
wishing he could run a dog across the snow-swept field.



Time for a Flash 55. We only have 14 hours to save the earth! Rally your words and hurry over to The Imaginary Garden With Real Toads to aid the effort.

Flash, I love you!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Security Theater (flash 55)

The parking lot sparkles on patrol.
The pavement is littered with salt crystals
embedded in the asphalt like diamonds.
The salt will drain off into the sewers
and end up in surrounding wetlands
and ground water, like toxic deicing sludge.
We walk the parking lots looking for trouble,
stare at people with our theater eyes.


I'm happy to make it back into a Flash 55 community, thanks to The Imaginary Garden With Real Toads who picked up the mantle when our Mr. Knowitall (Galen) dropped it to reclaim his offline life. I've missed the 55's so thanks to all of you Toads!

If anyone has a piece of fiction in 55 words they'd like to share, go to the link above and proceed from there. I must confess, this piece, while fiction, is loosely based on facts.

Hope everyone is having a creative weekend.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hot And Cold

In The City

Boys pace the pavement
in sweat darkened T-shirts.
Girls with pink hair huddle on the curb.
School's out.


In The Country

She wears red fox around her neck
to keep her warm.
She drinks wine with musicians in the mountains
who make music that will outlive them
and the fire they sit around.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Scout

The barbed wire grapples and snags
like expectation and life gone astray
but it doesn't hurt if you can get away.
Smoke drifts closer and the dogs bray.
Hand-spun cotton but no lingerie,
practical shoes adorn bare legs.
It won't hurt if she gets away.


Photo by Tom Chambers






















The image prompt comes from Magpie Tales a blog dedicated to honing the craft of writers and poets and keeping the muse alive, even when it has been ignored and neglected. For me, this image was fraught with contradiction from the barren landscape and barbed wire to the casual expression on the face of the runner, as if someone had just called her name, or asked her a question. She isn't dirty and she isn't sweating, yet she runs. Like a poem, or a short story, it leaves us half circle. The ending is ours to compose.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Flash Fiction

LATER

On the first warm night of the cool summer she wore the sarong she bought in Venice where everyone was beautiful. The fabric was soft as a sigh and brought back the surf that smelled like seaweed and the beach littered with what the ocean didn't need and the muscle volleyball game and the blackest man in America who mimed on the boardwalk. Candle wax from the last time she'd worn it had hardened in little droplets down the front. She could get it out with an iron and a piece of paper towel. But it would have to wait.

The rain came across the fields like wind through corn and what had to be done because he was gone overtook the carefree evening. She took off the sarong and hung it back in the closet, changed into jeans that fit and pulled on the tall rubber boots that didn't.




note: I was going to add one of my pictures but then decided I didn't need one. Couldn't find one that fit this little snippet of life. Couldn't find a picture of emotion, couldn't take a picture of the wind, only the effect it has on things. What am I trying to say?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hang The Garlic Over The Drive

Summer is busy but should one not always steal a moment to write? We dug our garlic and hung it in the granary.  Dad said to hang it over the drive, but I didn't know what he meant. Then he told me that Grandpa used to park his car in here-there are two big sliding doors on each side of the structure-a perfect place to park your car. But it hasn't been used as a garage in my lifetime. 

So I hung my garlic "over the drive" from the top railing on the third floor, climbing the steep staircase on your right. The old steamer trunk that sits behind the railing against the back wall is empty. I wonder what happened to the contents. Did I imagine them from my childhood?





The corn that borders my garden towers overhead 




and the winter squash and potatoes flourish.



A story about the granary: When we were children, an unruly cousin took our beloved red wagon to the top of those stairs and pushed it over the edge to the concrete below. The impact made a horrible noise and our wagon was smashed beyond repair. I don't think we ever got another. I don't know what compelled him to do that, but every time I climb those stairs, I remember it.

That's it for now. Off to plant more beets and lettuce. I just wanted to wake up my blog and say hello to all. How has your summer been?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bold Red Fox, Dead Red Hen

Fox have found our chicken coop and they've been taking them out in broad daylight, one by one. A neighbor alerted us to the dead chicken in their yard and fox in the driveway. Fox on the prowl. The egg count is down and now we know why. We wonder how long it's been going on, From a flock of one hundred, you could lose a few and not realize it. We close up the coop at night once the birds are all inside. They are safe at night. But daytime is killing time. Now we know.

The fox slip through the poultry fence like eels through sea grass. Nothing can stop them except a ten gauge, a keen eye and a steady finger.The loaded gun sits by the back door, though I don't like it there. We guard the poultry fence towards dusk when the chickens are still outside foraging. We watch the field, the woods, the fencerow.

We can't go to town, or down the road to dinner, can't weed the asparagus or trellis the tomatoes. Here they come across the open field, bolder than fox should be. There one goes out of range at a brisk trot with a chicken in its mouth, disappearing into the woods. Feathers on the ground. Carnage in the fencerow. Buzzards overhead, cleaning up after the fox.

We mull the fate of the birds we've raised, nurtured through winter with heat lamps to ward off the frigid wind, and now move around on open pasture, water and pamper for the eggs they give us. They are just now beginning to reach their peak egg production. All the hard work through winter was just beginning to pay off.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mother And The Cutthroat

Every year mother gave me dried delphiniums (massive blooms staked against the wind swayed above the irises and poppies). She’d hang them in a dark closet along with sprigs of lavender. Once dried, they would hold their color through the winter.  I have one delphinium from two years ago. Though faded in color, I save it.

One of her poppies survived the Polar Vortex. I fleshed it out of the weeds and pulled out the invasive quack grass that was smothering it. Big egg-shaped buds covered the plant, a tinge of pink at the tip promising salmon-colored crepe paper blooms in a week, or two, with sun and rain and faith. Faith was  for daffodils in my grandmother’s dictionary, but the daffodils are done and the tulips are done but the poppy is to come. 

But wait. The whirr of the gas-powered weed whacker warns of danger. The swoop of the handle cleaves the air, dismantling everything in its path, protective goggles and gloves for the whacker in full-throttle  approach. Protection for the cutthroat but none for the poppy. In one fell unsupervised swoop, the poppy is in ruins, flecks of bud (hints of salmon) lie scattered in the grass like fluffs of dandelion. 

Sister presented mother with the remnants. Poppy pieces in her lap, like rose petals saved from a prom corsage.


Friday, April 25, 2014

The Willard

Willard Asylum - Lisa Gordon

The walls sweat
like my doctor's brow.
I long to touch dry bark,
rasp my cheek along the flank of a willow,
rest a hip against the oak
at the back of the lane.

They tell me it will make me feel better.
I swallow and nod and try
to get along.
But the walls waver and sweat

like my doctor's brow.
I can tell you how that tastes.
I want the sandy lane under my feet,
sand I can brush off and leave behind.


I wrote this poem for an artistic interpretation challenge from Margaret at the Imaginary Garden. This photo of the Willard Asylum in the Finger Lakes Region of New York was taken by Lisa Gordon when she toured the facility and photographed it. The asylum opened in 1869 and was closed in 1995. During the time it was operational, 50,000 patients called it home. Six thousand died there. Also of interest to me is Margaret's link to an ongoing project by photographer Jon Crispin called "The Willard Suitcases". He is photographing the contents of suitcases left behind by patients of the Willard Insane Asylum.

There are more photos of the asylum on Lisa Gordon's website here, including this one of a patient's grave, marked only by a number plate set in the ground.


Willard Grave Marker - Lisa Gordon

Friday, April 11, 2014

Keeper Of The Light

Boat In The Moonlight - Odilon Redon

No one knows how he lost his way
on the familiar run from
the mouth of the river
to his room on the quay.
The moon was out
when he ran aground
and the boat was found
but not the old man.
Only the keeper knows
what happened that night
how he fell asleep
whilst tending the light.



April is poetry month, and the challenge today at The Imaginary Garden was to write an ekphrasis poem based on the work of French symbolist painter and illustrator, Odilon Redon. Ekphrasis is a literary description of a piece of art.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

TheTurtle




I walked around the pond in search of life.
The center is swirled in snowbanks
but the thaw has begun.
No floating fish-the feared winter kill-off, 
only leaves and corn husks float 
in the debris of spring.
Yet under the dock, air bubbles surface
and I imagined the turtle stirring
with dreams of a dragonfly’s spin.
But for now he sleeps. It’s only April.


The challenge here was to give our best and worst of April in 66 words.