Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

This baking is taking

the fruit of some body

and mixing it with the fruit

of the earth, birthing

harmony in each small cookie,

Mary’s sowing, reaping, crushing, sifting,

the cow with milk to give, hen with eggs to fold in,

substance of life and life-giving blending.

Isn’t this season about celebrating

the melding of spirit

with flesh? Remember

our miracles blossom from trauma

and this baking is beating

ingredients, dividing

dough in heaping spoonfuls,

elements indivisible – egg and sugar,

wheat and water.

Bite in, lick the crumb from your upper lip…

Partake in this communion of saints

while the miracle still warms the wafer.

And now we are all here: laborer,

consumer, life-giver, hovering over a tray

of peace on Earth.

I'm not sold on the ending. I'm not sold on the whole poem, even, but I needed to write about this. I was baking cookies and thinking about baking cookies, so a poem needed to be born. Hope you enjoy your cookies this holiday.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Holidays

It is the season of Christmas music, Christmas lights, Christmas cookies, Christmas parties, Christmas shopping, and Christmas. Christmas. Just the word lifts my spirits. Merry Christmas to you. And you. And you over there, too!

I'd like to give a shout out to the folks over at Kodak Gallery. I ordered *stuff* from them on Saturday, and UPS says it is on its way to my house today - Wednesday - just four days after I ordered it. That's amazing! Santa Claus and his elves don't have nuthin' on these people. My order wasn't just pictures, either. I won't tell you everything I ordered, but I did order a 40 page bound photo book of my family. If I had gone the old-fashioned route and scrapbooked this baby, it would've taken me at least a year, but Captain Kodak Efficiency is delivering it, bound and glossy, to my doorstep in just four days. Wow. So, if you are looking to create a unique and attractive Christmas gift this holiday season for some well-deserving grandparents or aunts, check it out.

BW and I battled back and forth for a few weeks about Christmas shopping this year (to spend or not to spend - that is always the question), but finally settled on a maximum dollar figure for the year. We're on a mission to become debt-free - a mission that will take at least several years, just for plastic debt - so any outside spending feels like we're slowing down the payoff. But it is Christmas! Spread good cheer! Be generous even with little! Some of you will smirk at our budgeted funds - $200 - but you'd be surprised how far we stretched that money. By the way, we finished our shopping. Insert triumphant laugh.

With the holiday break only seven work days away, I've taken out a stack of books by almost all of the poets who will be attending the Key West Literary Seminar and hope to read something by all of them before I go in January. It's a hefty stack.

I just finished reading two excellent books, very different in subject matter - Still Alice by Lisa Genova and The Host by Stephanie Meyer. Still Alice was a heartbreaking story about a woman (Alice) who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The book is written from a third-person limited omniscient point-of-view from Alice's perspective and follows Alice from her thriving career as a Harvard professor through the stages of degeneration. The author does a magnificent job of bringing the reader into each scene. Alice's relationships with her husband and children change and evolve throughout the book in a very real and powerful way. The author writes with truth and compassion about her characters. It is a beautiful story.

The Host by Stephanie Meyer is almost impossible to summarize without sounding wacky. Like the Twilight series, The Host is a sci-fi book that incorporates many themes I care about - love, sacrifice, reconciliation, forgiveness - into a strange and futuristic world. It seems evident to me that the author is modeling her main character after Jesus, incorporating powerful parallels. "He came into the world, but the world rejected him," could be an opening epigram for this book. While this book did not capture my attention as intensely as the Twilight series, I found myself much more engaged and not hating the main character or feeling annoyed by any one perspective. This is a much more well-rounded book with very few lag moments.

I have really enjoyed this dive back into fiction. I missed plot and character development, extended narratives, and dialogue. I missed not having to figure out what the story is really about, although I did do that anyway.

Poetry writing has come to a bit of a standstill for the time being. I have a few ideas but just haven't had the time to write. As usual, much of the drafting might have to be done in my brain before I ever sit down for the writing. I need to figure out what I want to take to Key West for workshopping. I want to bring mostly new material to see where I could go from here. I'm excited for Key West. It is hard to think about it now in the face of this great season (see beginning of this post).

It seems we have come full circle! Time to sign off - have a blessed holiday if I don't sign back on in a while!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Is This Really About?

Over the course of the last six months (!), I've been working on shaping my collection of poems. It has gone through a number of transformations and two title changes, and right now I have six stacks of paper in the kitchen - one stack for each "theme" I think my book has. (Six. Hm. Maybe this is where I need to start - too many themes?)

I do believe that there is a thread running through all of these poems... perhaps several. The trouble is finding the thread and discovering how all of the poems are connected to it. So as an exercise tonight, I've decided to try to explain what I hope my poetry collection as a whole accomplishes, what all of the poems add up to. Wish me luck.

I have titled my manuscript, "Pruning Burning Bushes." The poem titled this is the first poem I had selected for publication, by my good friends over at Relief. The poem is based off of the passage in John 15 that talks about bearing good fruit and being pruned. Pruning removes the dead and broken branches so that new and healthy growth can be formed. The pruning in this poem is rather extreme - the shrubs are cut back very far, and then the gardener stands back and waits to see where the calluses will form -- calluses on trees are the scars left once a branch has healed over the cut.

The other side to this is that I am pruning "burning bushes" - an obvious glance back at the Old Testament appearance of God in the burning bush. So what does it mean to prune a burning bush? I'm not sure - that's why I'm writing this. Here's some ideas for what I think this could mean. First, Moses was a classical whiner. He tried his very best to get out of the mission to save the Jews from bondage. He kept trying to defer responsibility and calling on to other people. He was talking to a bush that was burning but not being consumed! I mean, come on, talk about guts and cowardice crashing against one another simultaneously. You would think Moses would have been terrified to disagree with God given his self-doubt, but he questions the God of the universe's plan at least three times. Silly, silly Moses.

So maybe pruning the burning bush is our attempt to cut back the calling, slim it down to something more manageable and less miraculous.

That's one idea.

But I don't think that's what this is about. I think this is more oriented around the idea for the poem in the first place, the idea that we ourselves are being pruned and shaped, not only so that we can bear more fruit but also so that God's calling, plan and purpose can be evident in our lives. Perhaps we ought to embody the burning bush, so to speak. We are supposed to "let our lights shine," aren't we? What light is that? Why, the light of the Holy Spirit! *bells and whistles*

This really does relate to my book because in general, the poems are all either personal or thematically applicable to this pruning and shaping idea. The shape that feels natural for this is almost chronological - it feels as if the book should move from the innocence and delight of childhood into the heavy pruning, to healing, to rejoicing, to teaching. Maybe that's it.

Right now, the "arch" of the book is close to this. I have family/cycle of life poems in the first section, darker struggling poems in the second, rejoicing/marriage poems in the third, and seeds/planting poems in the fourth. It kind of follows the movements I'm hoping to accomplish. Kind of. I'd like to think more about where the "circle of life" poems belong. Do they belong in the first section with the other poems of place and family? hm.

The best and most frustrating part about this is that lots of people don't care. Poets and non-poets alike are completely uninterested in whether the book hangs together as an aesthetic whole. Are the poems good? Do they have the same voice? That's enough. For some. I can't decide if I'm one of those people. I want the poems to make sense together - there are poems I've written that are not in the same voice and simply don't belong in this book - but I also want variation and modulation (as the boss would say). Should the book move somewhere? Does the reader end up somewhere other than where they began? Hmmmm.

I think I'll go and fiddle with the order some more now that I've unloaded all of those blatherings.

Friday, October 9, 2009

That Crazy Thang Called "Plans"

It's the end of another week, and I have a bit of a headache that I'm calling sinus because if I scrunch up my nose and squint my eyes, the pressure seems to be relieved a little bit. It's kind of hard to type like this and I think all of the undergraduates wandering by my door think I'm crazy, but at least there's some relief!

I failed to report on Warren-Wilson. I don't really remember whether I mentioned on here that I applied to this elite low-res MFA program, but I did. It was the only school I applied to, figuring that since I'm not in any major rush to start working on a degree I might as well only apply to the #1 place I'd like to be. So I applied, and the WW website said that I'd hear somewhere between three and six weeks after their application deadline. Once that time period rolled around, I started to experience this serious anxiety about being accepted. With Brandon starting school and the two of us being on this kick to eliminate debt, financing a second graduate degree at this point would be rather cost-prohibitive. And the program doesn't offer any tuition reduction or scholarships. But I applied anyway, and here I am chewing my lip through trying to decide what to do if I'm accepted.

Imagine my surprise when I was absolutely relieved to be rejected! Ahhh, thank you, door of opportunity slammed shut! There's nothing quite like receiving a strong NO when you have anxiety about a situation.

I have to pull a quick quote from back in March that I stumbled upon this afternoon. It made me giggle and sigh at my own stupidity.

In many ways I don't know what to do next, in regards to poetry. I am working on a draft of my first full-length manuscript right now, getting feedback from poet friends on order and arc and what-not, but what I don't know is whether I should be thinking about going for my graduate degree, either MFA or something else, or whether I am right where I need to be. Another thing my friend said on Thursday that really struck a chord with me is that often, once we've found our niche and begin to succeed, we have a tendency to be rewarded or promoted straight out of that place that God put us - the sweet spot where we are most productive. Even though some pursuits may seem like good ideas, they might not be God's idea, or God's timing. This is something I've been thinking a lot about with my career as a poet (if you can call being a poet any sort of "career"). Is going for a higher degree right now or in the near future a good idea, God's idea, both, or neither?

When I think about it in terms of my family, I think going back to school right now would be putting myself before every other member in my family. It would be a seriously selfish move - especially since Brandon has been planning to go back to school for a few years now. I don't think it is right or fair to him or my children to take on yet another project, especially when I am already over-committed with work, church, and my poetry as it is. I think in a few years, once the kids are in school and the husband is almost done or finished with his master's, the timing will be better. And who knows where we will be a few more years down the road? I certainly never predicted we'd be here.

So how about that? Why didn't I stick to my guns, you ask? Because I am like every other human being on this planet - ambitious, big-headed, and over-eager - and don't like to pay attention to any still, small voices of reason. That's why. Have you ever been excited about rejection like this? I was thrilled! I still am thrilled! I don't have to make any difficult decisions!

In other exciting news, guess who's going to Key West in January? Oh yeah, baby, that's me, hangin' with my poet homies... you know, all those people who won't know me but I sure know them! At least through their writing... Richard Wilbur, Rita Dove, Maxine Kumin, Billy Collins and a whole host of other poets. It's going to be so fabulous.

I've also had some publication news come streaming in lately. In the last month or so, I've had three poems accepted - Christianity & Literature, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, and just today, Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature. It's been an exciting month! It just goes to show that even if you've received 120 rejections in the last year, acceptance might just be right around the corner. The publications are such an affirmation, but as I mentioned in my last post, this is not why I write. In fact, if that becomes why I'm writing, I think all inspiration and authenticity about my work will go flying away. I can't write for publication. Then it is not true. Sometimes I feel myself leaning in that direction, thinking, "I bet what they'd like to read is something more like this..." and then I start to put the pen to the paper and panic because there's nothing there. No inspiration whatsoever.

Be true to your voice. Be true to your subject matter. And never think, "Oh, they won't like that subject/topic/form/word/theme/punctuation mark." They shouldn't be a thought in your mind until far beyond the first draft and multiple revisions of the poem. But it's easy to lose that focus.

I'm excited about a few poem ideas I have floating around in my brain right now. All I need to do is find the time to write. It sounds so simple...

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Posting Poems

You may be asking yourself, (or probably not), "Why hasn't Sarah been posting poems lately?" And the truth of the matter is I haven't written any lately - it's been a busy late summer and fall, and with all this life happening, writing isn't. But also, I have been thinking about this blog and the posting of poems, and I'm a little unsure how to proceed with the posting of poems.

You see, there are many respected journals that say things like, "No previously published work, anywhere, at all, online or off-line." But they never say, "especially blogs" or "in particular, blogging and social networking sites," which leaves me wondering whether a blog is considered a form of publication. It is certainly a form of distribution, and rarely do I post a finished product. Usually it is a fresh idea, first draft sort of poem. My revision process is always done privately and then sent out to journals and people I know will give me good feedback on stuff.

I've talked about this here before - the underlying issue is not whether so-and-so will publish this poem because it previously appeared somewhere else, the issue is, who am I writing these things for? What is the point? Am I seeking only public acknowledgement for whatever truths or stories I've discovered through the writing, or am I looking to share the fiddlings and meditations I've put into verse with those I love and the other people who happen to stumble upon this blog? And is there something to preserving poetics until it is in its final form to be revealed later?

Another poet I admired during the poem-a-day project did something of a compromise: she would post her poem today and then tomorrow, when she was ready to post a new one, she'd go back to that previous post, delete the previous poem, and put *Poof!* in the poem's place. I've done this with some of the poems that have been accepted for publication places, because for one thing the originals on here are but wintry shadows compared to the revised versions, and also because the journal has a right that I've granted to be the first place or only place to publish that particular poem. I like this idea and I think it gets me out of the "previously published elsewhere" issue - it'll only appear for 24 hours and then bye-bye, poem online!

What do you think? Poets out there, do you think there are issues with publishing poems on the internet, specifically blogs, before sending them out to journals? Are there any experts out there who know the "rules"? And should I care about these rules? Do you care? ;)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pushing Matchbox Cars

"Sow your seed in the morning, and at night let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well." - Ecclesiastes 11:6

That's really all I want to say. I've tried to elaborate on this verse for the last fifteen minutes and keep coming up with hogwash. Everything I type sounds like a lecture I've been giving myself, about the energy I've drained at work and the ghost of a person I become at home in the evenings. As a colleague of mine said today, why should people at work get the best of me and the people I love get the rest of me? Well, he said it more eloquently than that. And his didn't rhyme.

The fact is that all of our activities deserve 100% of us, and that seems impossible. Work deserves that much, husband, kids, family, friends... but usually we devote 90% of ourselves to one task, and the remaining people and tasks get whatever is left, that slouched over, heavy-eyed, mumbling self looking for a quiet corner to avoid the rest of society.

Is there a way to balance? To pull your eyes off the computer at home and let them rest on the man you married or the kids you made? Everything in moderation? Yes. In fact, that good teacher from Ecclesiastes has an even more well-known little ditty that goes a little somethin' like this: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die..." and so on. You know it. You are probably singing the song right now. Later on, Solomon has another refrain, "I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live." That's all. Live.

What that means is it is okay to let go. There's a time and a place for everything, and that does not mean that the time for everything is right now. Sow your seeds in the morning -- that's when we do our work -- and at night, let not your hands be idle -- that's when we play. What if the souls you are investing in after work are the very same souls God wants to use to reach a hurting world? Don't they deserve your attention, too, attention of a different kind? Here's where the self-lecture comes in that I mentioned earlier.

Mostly I want to say that there is purpose in every minute of the day. There's always something we could be investing in - our relationships, our work, our prayer life, ourselves even. I do not know what is going to succeed - whether my work at work or my work at home, and maybe the most important task I do today will be pushing Matchbox cars around the living room floor, because that will be a moment my son remembers forever, a small expression of love that embedded itself in his mind. Maybe something else will be more dramatic and important. Ya just don't know.

So, sow your seeds in the morning, and at night don't let your hands be idle. You don't know which is going to succeed, whether this or that, or whether they'll both turn out awesome. You can only invest in it all. Live fully your life. "Purpose yourself to have a good day." ;) And since you can't do it all on your own, pray pray pray. Let God be the God of endurance, perseverance, and hope.

And stop griping all the time. It's not that bad. Really. And it isn't about you, anyway, so grow up. (Mini-self-lecture.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Painting Nails and Gettin' Dolled Up for Work?!

In about three hours, the students and faculty will begin to arrive for the Ashland MFA program, and step one to prepare for the residency today: painting my nails. This is clearly the most important item on my agenda for the day, even though I rarely paint my nails, even for weddings. I even brought out the pedicure-pull-your-toes-apart things, AND used top coat. I didn't use base coat, sorry Rhonda ;) But Lydia would be proud - the color is a bit like a tangerine.

Don't be fooled by all of this girliness. The kit I own was given to me by my grandparents when I was in high school. The nail polish I used? Yup. From high school. Same kit. It might have even been in middle school, I don't remember now. Boy that was a long time ago. My nail polish is almost half my age. I wonder if good nail polish is like a fine wine ... does it improve with age?

I am thoroughly excited about the residency, which probably accounts for the nail polish. Why I didn't wait until after I showered, after cleaning the house, is a great question that we'll leave to the experts at Elle Magazine.

The family is on their way to Akron for the next two weeks, with the occasional trip back to Ashland for gym and swim class and a wedding. I will miss them, but selfishly, I'm relieved that they have somewhere to go for the two weeks. The residency is dawn-til-dusk and then later, even, and only seeing them for a few minutes here and there throughout the day would be difficult for everyone. I am grateful that our extended family live nearby so Brandon has some help.

Today begins two weeks of talking to people who all get me. Not that you all don't get me, too, but these folks are all crazy-passionate about writing, and it is SO fun. Exhausting, but fun.

So now that my nails are dry (and slightly dented from typing....), I am going to go prep for the day. Have a great one!

Monday, June 22, 2009


Sometimes the way we move about each other feels choreographed, we've been practicing it so long. It is a good kind of dance, where your partner seems to have mastered the steps and knows right when to lead, when to dip, when to spin, how to maneuver you just right so you feel as if this dance is really effortless.

It probably doesn't happen enough - most of the time, we fight to take the lead, would rather grapevine when our partner wants to cha-cha, and just when one person is warming up to the dance, the other just wants to take a seat and have a drink. But there are days when everything clicks into place and we're primarily interested in the welfare of each other rather than our own interests. This makes all of the difference.

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to Love God and to Love one another, but most of the time, we are wrapped up in numero uno - what can I get, who's serving me, how am I being left out here, what wrong has been done to me, me me me. As Toby Keith (that fountain of wisdom) has said, "I wanna talk about me, I wanna talk about I wanna talk about #1 oh my, me, my what I think what I like what I know what I want what I see..." That is where I reside most of the time, unfortunately, and also most unfortunately, this is where we are most unhappy.

But when we start getting down to the basics of loving God and loving one another, when we start turning our eyes outward to our fellow human beings as opposed to focusing on our own inner wants and needs, suddenly all of those wants and needs are minimalized and we can see the world much clearer. I think we tend to slip into a cross-eyed vision - not only can we only see the end of our noses, even that ends up distorted.

So back to this dance thing. It is necessary to practice the steps every day. Somedays, we'll be full of grace, our relationships will seem effortless yet meaningful, and we'll end the day content and relaxed. Other days, the dance is all work and no fun at all - your partner is difficult and so are you, but you have to suck it up, pour them a cup of tea too, determine to be happy that they switched the load of laundry and folded the whites even though the shirts aren't creased the way you'd like and the socks are all in balls rather than tucked neatly together. Because the basics Jesus taught, love God and love one another, aren't about feelings. It is about choice. Obedience. Commandment. These are conscious decisions, not flutters of heartstrings.

The next time you watch "So You Think You Can Dance," remember, those steps that look so effortless, the way the partners seem to glide across the floor as if they are one, that took hours of grueling effort, sweat, and patience. Let's invest that kind of energy into our relationships, so we can move as if we are one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pancake Saturdays

This isn’t your everyday Bisquick pancake;
we follow the supreme recipe.
My daughter begs to stir and measure
milk and mix. Crack an egg,
warm the griddle, summer whispering
through the open window –
slow rise, tea pot whistle, cooking oil sizzle –
the rest of the day impatient
to begin, percolating our morning –
Is it ready yet? No, we need more
time to spoon the sweetness in.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Potty Training Adventures

I have never been so proud of bowel movements.

We began potty training our son, Elvis, a few weeks ago. We eased him into the process with the convenient yet pointless Pull-Ups and their sneaky tricks to entice you into buying boxes and boxes of them under the guise of "potty training" when really, they are just absorbent underwear, diapers without velcro tabs. Annoying.

So after messing around with the Pull-Ups for a while, we decided to go all out. It was time to buy the underwear. Naturally, we made a big deal out of the "big boy" undies and their manly navy blue with baseballs and basketballs all over them, snagging a box of Disney Pixar Cars underwear for after he goes in the potty -- "Now you get to wear the REALLY COOL underwear!!!!" And thus, the pants-wetting began.

It was slow going at first - lots of walking around in wet pants as if nothing at all happened down there between his legs. We escorted him off to the bathroom every 30 minutes, kept him in his underwear and a t-shirt all day (no sense wearing pants during this process, people), and did our best to stay patient and calm... after all, this is a big deal, this potty business.

Some people have begun potty training their kids as soon as they can sit up, and I have to admit I'm amazed and envious. How?! The child can't even feed himself but we're pooping in the potty? Amazing. Absolutely amazing. We have not been so motivated - infancy was a time reserved for bewilderment and frustration ("Why is he/she crying now?!"), and adding in random and unpredictable trips to the bathroom to prop my head-bobbing child on a potty seat just wasn't going to happen. I am certain I would have let them tumble into the toilet. I know these things about myself.

Our goal has been to potty train the kids before two hits - that momentous occasion when children decide that everything their parents have ever wanted them to do was the most ridiculous idea they've ever heard, a phase that lasts approximately until the children have children. Elvis will be two in August, and we have many a vacation and road trip and wedding to attend in the next few months, so it was now or never.

There have been many marshmallows promised in exchange for pee. Bribery is not a tactic of which I am proud, but sometimes you have no choice - half a marshmallow for pee, a whole marshmallow for poop. The kid will have diabetes by the time he is three. The first time our son finally peed on the potty, it took him ten minutes of sitting there, resisting sitting there, and then being somewhat pinned to the potty seat by mean old Mom, but once E succumbed, crying, to having to pee on the seat, there was much rejoicing. I think I screamed. Hooray, Elvis! Great job little man! Elvis peed on the potty! Weeee! Lots of this sort of thing.

The first go-around is the hardest - breaking down the fear and confusion, dissolving the idea that pee and poop in the pants is the way we've always done it, what's wrong with it, what's the big deal - these are the barriers that must be overcome. Much like any bad habit or sin, the first phase is denial - there's nothing wrong with what I'm doing. And then we move into grief - mourning the fact that I have to give up the ability to go whenever I want, however I want... even though it stinks, literally. Later, there's repentance - okay, okay, I get it, it would be better for you and me if I did things your way. And finally, reward - we begin to see the benefits and advantages of doing things God's way... or the big boy way, in Elvis's case.

And it appears as if we have arrived. Tonight, Elvis pooped in the potty for the first time, ever. A momentous occasion - one wildly celebrated by everyone in the house. Marshmallows for everyone!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Readings and Reading

This weekend, I had the great joy of reading at the Columbus Arts Festival. You never know with poetry readings - there could be dozens of people, or there could be one: your husband. Fortunately for me, the Columbus Arts Festival drew thousands of people, and a few of those folks stopped to linger around the poetry tent as I read at 3:20 on Saturday. It was a great experience, and a beautiful day. The festival was huge! I hope to be able to read there again next year.

The rest of the weekend was spent with friends and family - the best way to spend the weekend. Friday, we went to my parents' campsite and enjoyed brats and good conversation around a campfire. We drove up to Akron on Sunday for a graduation party and to spend some time with Brandon's family. I love being close enough to both sets of grandparents - the kids adore their grandparents. We are so fortunate to have great relationships with all of them. I know most families do not have that support system built in.

I'm on significant revision #3 of Sustenance, the working title of my first full-length collection of poems, and it is on its way to three generous readers. I still feel a bit ridiculous referring to myself as a "poet" - I just don't take myself seriously enough - but that feeling is beginning to fade a bit.

My library books are due this Thursday, so it's time to report on a collection of poems I have been reading, In the Middle Distance by Linda Gregg.

Anyhow, the more I've read from In the Middle Distance, the more I've enjoyed Linda Gregg's work. This is a poet I should be reading - I can connect with lines like, "I fell in love. I believed people. And even now I love the yellow light shining down on the dirty brick wall." (from Staying After), and from "Marfa," "I keep thinking that if I go alone into the size of this silence, we can straighten things out. To know what to question, and what to believe. How to let my heart split open. To print in clear light the changing register of this grand world." Gregg is poking around in my territory - that land where the natural meets the spiritual and the human meets the divine - and finding joy, complexity, sorrow. There is also a lot of reflection and looking back on the past here, finding peace and love enough to reconcile all of the waiting and hurt. This is most evident in "Arriving Again and Again without Noticing". She ends with "I finally fell in love with all of it: dirt, night, rock and far views. It's strange that my heart is as full now as my desire was then." Really beautiful work.

I'm looking forward to tracking down more of her books.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading for a change

In case you haven't noticed, I've been doing a lot of writing as of late, and frankly, I'm all poemed out. For the time being. I am tired of reading and tired of writing poems. Give me something book-length!

So I read Patricia Hampl's The Florist's Daughter this weekend and started in on Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis. I had forgotten how much I LOVE C.S. Lewis. But before that, let's talk about Hampl.

I've heard it said by someone (Joe Mackall, I think), that Patricia Hampl is the only writer who can write about nothing in particular for 250 pages and succeed. Which means he thinks midwestern life without crises equals nothing. I loved this book. Set during the days and hours prior to the death of her mother, Hampl describes and explores her lifelong relationship with her parents leading up to their deaths, effortlessly gliding back and forth across time and space to accomplish a beautiful narrative. The reader is allowed to experience the love for father and changing appreciation for mother that evolves into deep love throughout the book without feeling sentimental. Her style is simply delicious. I like the word delicious. I think I use it to describe literature more often than I ought.

So, Hampl was amazing. I'd like to read more of her in the future.

We're at my in-laws' house this weekend, and I finished The Florist's Daughter around 2 yesterday, which means I was in a reading mood only half-way through the kids' naps. I found a book by C.S. Lewis called Letters to Malcolm, which, as it turns out, is about prayer. I've been thinking a lot about prayer the last few months and this was exactly the sort of book I was looking for. It is really quite fabulous. I'm only 50 pages in, but it is a short book, something I should be taking slower. C.S. Lewis is one of those writers whose pages end up ear-marked every other page, there's just so much good going on. A few favorites:

" one in his senses, if he has any power of ordering his own day, would reserve his chief prayers for bed-time - obviously the worst possible hour for any action which needs concentration. The trouble is that thousands of unfortunate people can hardly find any other."

And this, talking about praying for things or desires:

"It is no use to ask God with factitious earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with the desire of B. We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us. Even an intimate human friend is ill-used if we talk to him about one thing while our mind is really on another, and even a human friend will soon become aware when we are doing so."

And further down the same page:

"If one forcibly excludes them, don't they wreck all the rest of our prayers? If we lay all the cards on the table, God will help us to moderate the excesses. But the pressure of things we are trying to keep out of our mind is a hopeless distraction. As someone said, 'No noise is so emphatic as one you are trying not to listen to.'"

And still more, of course. There's a reason for a volume entitled, The Quotable C.S. Lewis. He's just that good. I haven't read C.S. Lewis in a while so it is nice to get back in to that voice and reflection, especially on a topic I've been thinking about a good deal. I'm not really a very good pray-er -- I'm the sort who waits until the end of the day to pray or rattles off something here and there throughout the day, which is the rarer sort. At any rate, it is an area of my spiritual life in which I'd like to improve.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 21, 2009



Measuring Rings

Settle your shifting vision on the maple stump
your son is standing on, growing out
of all your ancient history. The past keeps repeating
in new rings, health you measure by breadth.
You count the number of times you’ve grown
out of the fire, the layers of heartwood healing
over scars, new branches jutting from woundwood.

Do you see the little man stomping his feet
on this stump, laughing? Stop searching
for ways to hollow out your trunk. It is hard
to distinguish redemption from regret; you must see
the heartwood for what it is – dormant, but solid –
here only so you have something to grow on,
matter to attach your sapwood.

The present flows directly from the past.
As every second dies, a new one stumbles in
to stand on the back of the last. If the sun
indeed will rise to warm your town again,
you’ll take this trail tomorrow, but it will never
be the same – you cannot pilfer this moment
in your pocket to pull out a year from now.

Without the bouncing toddler on the stump,
there is no playful coaxing down, no upward-
reaching hand, no march down the sidewalk.
Every dead and living branch you’ve wished away
would erase this knot, this casual miracle
sprouting light with every hallowed breath.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The New Landscape

The New Landscape

I've bundled branches, sawed stumps low,
cut down in twenty minutes
what took years and years to grow.

What do you think the neighbors know
about the severed limbs that jut
from bundled branches, their stumps sawed low?

The taxus and squared boxwood woe
the push and pull as the hand saw cuts
down what took them forty years to grow.

A younger resident, I want to show
ambitious feats to hide my ruts
I left from bundled branches, stumps sawed low.

Even though the overgrown are gone, I know
I will remember every butt
of what took forty years to grow.

So leave the Rose of Sharon shoots to show
a fragment of the past, stubborn infant
witness to the bundled branches, stumps sawed low –
I, too, am a remnant of what took years and years to grow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Writing About Writing

My daughter is currently practicing her monkey skills by standing on my thighs and linking her arms around my neck. Yes, and I am still typing. Do you see the dedication in action??

I did a rewrite of "The Corner Stand" last night of which I am quite proud. Publishing first drafts of poems here doesn't seem like a big deal to me - it is nice to be able to share my initial fiddlings with poems - but something keeps me from posting the rewrites... especially when they are significant. I go back and forth on the topic - am I really jeopardizing my chances of poems being published? And even if I am, isn't one of my reasons for writing poetry to have it be read? I don't know - most poems I write are public poems. I am not much of a private poet (obviously) - I like sharing what has been revealed to me through poetry. It seems silly to me to not share my work when the likelihood most of them will see the light of day is so slim.

Like most things, I've over-thought this topic.

I have been working on assembling my first full-length collection of poems. It is a lot of fun to think about all of those separate files as one body of work. I thought it would be more difficult to see the arc (or vee, as it turns out) of my book, but I suppose because so many of my poems are autobiographical and narrative, it is easier to see common themes. All I really need to do is think about where I've been and determine which poems fit which stage of life ;) Yeah, it isn't that simple, but it sounds nice doesn't it?

I have had a congested face for a few days and I'm getting tired of it. Who likes constant fog? Fog is only romantic and lovely if you are inside a clear-aired home, not driving through it in the mountains.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sydney Cast in Shadow

Sydney Cast in Shadow

The garden stroll before a matinee ballet
birds of paradise gawking these palms this lushness
this pristine park dustless alley
these streakfree storefront windows
this cloudless painless blue this skyline
etched with geometric concrete waves
jutting saucer tower arcing bridge
sailboat-speckled placid harbor this paper bag
soaked in grease from fish and chips

Me too far away to see
my blurred face bare legs fingers tugging skirt hem
neverending steps the opera house
perched at cresting point behind me

This map too small in scale its cartoon skyscrapers
outlandish fountain dozen golden arches architecture
arc and angles exaggerated too whimsical
to accommodate the shadowed blocks we walked
cabs we didn't wave sweaty footprints pressed to sidewalks
heels in hand this vast gap between where we were
and where we hoped to be.

Monday, May 4, 2009



Newly planted tree, water.
Douse your roots,
saturate the soil, stretch
beyond the root ball,
wriggle those anxious nerves
through burlap to new earth

and then deeper. Soak
so long the mulch rises up,
washes away, until you think
enough. No. This is not enough –
uncoil the hose, turn the faucet,
we will do this daily, weekly,

this whole season. Train
your roots to reach deep,
so when the droughts come,
you can drink from the depths.
When the winds come,
you will not be toppled.

Well, as you can tell, I didn't make it through April poem-a-day but rather stammered out around April 22 and said, forget it. I'm done. I've said all I can say this month. It was a great showing, though, and I can't wait to get to the new poems and do some serious revisioning.

I've had a busy few weeks with poetry readings that were lots of fun, good experience, and even profitable! I actually sold two books! Lyd turned three on Sunday, so we celebrated her birthday with many a princess-oriented gift and lots of friends and family. AND! I MULCHED. Oh, how I LOVE to mulch. I think it is a disease, but at least it is a productive one. I also planted knock-out roses, a clematis, and split and transplanted hostas and columbine (at least I think that's the name of the flower). I am a happy little landscaper, let me tell you.

I think the rest from poetry for a time was healthy after such a binge on words and ideas. One thing I've discovered is that my best work is inspired - the Holy Spirit does his work on an event in my day or a memory of my past and out flows the beginnings of an idea. When I force poetry, like I had to do some of the days, it's as if my tongue dries up and sticks to the roof of my mouth. The words come out fuzzy. It is no good. That is poetry work, not poetry inspired. However, the other thing I've found is that poetry inspired is much harder to come by when the instrument is out of tune, so all of the work of writing leads to the inspiration, in some way. It's all a mystery, really. I'd like to summon inspiration whenever I please, but it just doesn't happen. Even when I really want to write a poem, there just aren't words sometimes.

There's a certain buzz happening right now - I don't know if it is because of the weather turning or the season I'm in, but I am generally excited for "the next big thing." Bring it! Let's go!

Friday, April 24, 2009


Tiel over at Knocking from Inside gave me this idea for alternative presentations of poems...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Easter Saturdays

Easter Saturdays (tentative title because I stink at titles)

Cars full of people split the swamp where my creek flows.
They must not ponder, pause, stare at hollowed logs,
branchless trunks and wonder about the end of winter,
spring still a whisper in the trickle of cold water through the culvert.

What does all this dying mean, this surrender
after striving for three seasons? Grasses have been shedding
locks for decades, climbing out of caskets, grow and grow
over all their flawed history. We are all eating ourselves,

regurgitating what we thought was digested,
disposed and left behind. But it heaves back,
the crunch of gravel chip and seal, the steady rain falling
after having traveled the culvert just yesterday,

when I straddled the guard rail, cold metal creasing my thighs,
watching every season of my life die and be reborn.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kind of unorthodox for Sarah, but anyway...

I haven't been following the rules of one of the website's prompts, but today I wanted to catch up to my once-a-weekday, so I stopped by and found the prompt to write a poem whose first line or title begins All I want is... and then you need to fill in the blank. So I did.

All I Want is a Martini,

slim and light, a cherry bobbing
like romance in apple pucker,
its stem a curling finger.
Caramel lips the edge
of the glass, locks
sticky sweet, and I lick.

A sexy sip,
cool on my tongue,
then slow rain,
neckline kisses,
silken sheets.

The Corner Stand

The Corner Stand

The pick-up’s open tailgate displays
the fruits of our labors – bushel baskets
of fresh-picked sweet corn, Sugar Baby
watermelon, zucchini, yellow squash,
tomatoes, green bell and banana peppers
all arranged in quart containers.

It is unpredictable at the corner stand –
will passersby, hankering for a dozen,
see our shining vegetables, mouths watering
for a taste of straight-from-the-vine
cherry tomatoes, pull in or drive by?

Fishermen steer into the lot towing a boat
off Lake LaDue, a long sunburned afternoon
on the reservoir rewarded with a few Bluegill.
They admire the way we’ve displayed our corn,
tassels up, baskets full, pull over
for a few ears on their way home.

We polish the dirt off cucumbers
til they shine, rake footsteps away
from in front of the stand,
chase the shade of an ancient maple,
turn the ignition and pull forward,
scrape the red awning across dirt.
We straighten the tablecloth.

It is a weekday – the rusted truck bed
does not empty. The sun dips low
behind the hill. We count the number
of cars that do not stop. The red F-150
extended cab with Edison Marine
in tow returns, demands whatever we have left,
no matter the price – there’s a bon fire

down the street – big shindig – dinner’s
a clam bake, family style. We unload
our bushels into brown bags, stack
them in the bed. They write a check
and then they’re off, leave our little stand
in the dust, a slim day suddenly jolly.

We cross the street to the Inn, buy
a couple burgers, French fries and Pepsis,
celebrate our long day at a booth in the bar.
Tomorrow is Saturday; we will pick
two truck beds’ worth, enough
for weekend cook-outs, pool parties,
weddings, baptisms, funerals.
We will feed the masses.

The Gardener Exhibits His Work

The Gardener Exhibits His Work

“Let me show you my garden,” so I follow him
out the back patio. Aromas overwhelm the air –
vines of roses pruned, trimmed, and trained to climb
the trellis, blooms loosed like curls. Lilac groves multiply
their purple flowers, precision mathematic, the scent
of infinity on the breeze. The garden is strategic –
violas, azaleas, peonies, lilies, delphiniums,
chrysanthemums, holly – color for each season.

I am in awe - extravagance, investment, creativity! -
turn to tell him so but he is still walking,
ducking under split rails. I sprint after him,
leap rows of recent tulip cultivars, spy a line
of weeping cherries, orchards heavy in fruit.
He’s in the field now, weeds waist-high.
Hands stroke grasses in seed, shattercain,
poison hemlock, Canada thistle, dandelions,
Queen Anne’s lace. I glance over my shoulder
at the ordered garden behind the fence.

“What do you think?” he asks, spreading his arms
to encompass all this timeless wildness, this freedom.


I just had an idea for another poem that might be a little more entertaining and perhaps less predictable than this one. I'll see what I can put together tonight ;)

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I Chronicles 21:15

How many times have you said,
Enough! Withdraw your hand
the vessel of your wrath subdued?
What invokes this rage, earthquakes,
hurricanes, bubonic plague, rampant
trauma sweeping across continents?

Why spare any? Impossible
to find mercy in so many, to look
beyond intractable justice and see
love hollow in bellies of famine-struck,
flowing like stopped-up rivers, years
of cloudless skies, millions dying of thirst.

Thank God it wasn’t worse. How much worse
could it have been? Prayers uttered
over sickness, violence, shootings,
bombings, death camps. Thank God
it stopped when it did.
Nations wait,
smug faces turned – look me in the eyes,
we say, give us your signs, the proof is in
the flood, earthquake, famine, plague.

My son strains against my grip,
tucked into a bear hug, restrained –
you will listen and obey. The tears come fast,
grief rolling at this confinement,
a humbling hold until Enough.

Withdraw your hand.
Sobs like breaking
thunder, tears welling, bursting, driving rain.


Being that this is a first draft, I have a lot of work to do to think through this poem. I want to wrestle with this line, "Enough! Withdraw your hand," and probably shrink the earlier stanzas and grow the more personal connection. It isn't an easy topic - the wrath and mercy of God - but I think I can get somewhere with it. It's just going to take me longer than tonight :)

It has been a while since I just wrote about how things are going around here. The kids are doing great - it was a beautiful day so we spent most of it playing outside and everyone is thoroughly exhausted, including me. Brandon is in PA for baseball, and they are playing SO well. It's exciting - the only bummer for me is that it is really hard to get to the games - we haven't made it once yet. I loved that about baseball season. Hopefully we'll get to a game sometime.

I just realized my tags for this post are going to be really strange. ;) poetry, wrath, God, death, family spring, baseball ;)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

We fly the same V for weeks, know
our destination without words and sail,
driven by a force north to calmer waters.
It is almost instinctual, the way we settle
on the lake, wingtips ripple, wait for summer.
But nesting takes its toll, days stretch out as long

as summer shadows. Our hatchlings are a handful,
so stressed, endure nine weeks of molting,
flight feathers plucked just to grow them again.
We are grounded these first days, exhausted –
hiss at threatening predators, each other,
broaden our wing spans to show our power.

Now that they’re strong enough to fly,
we migrate from the only nest they’ve known,
feel that same pull south. Wind shifts
in fitful gusts, why must this tension reign,
unpredictable? The currents turn, certainty
drifts away. Our flock edges the horizon,

uneven. I thought I knew how we moved,
how best to battle each season. Life-long mate,
please do not desert me. The V will tighten,
lean, ascend out of this turbulence. I will follow
your lead, watch for signs of fatigue, take your place
at the head for a time so you can breathe.




Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Lily Kind of Love

NOTE: Please, please, PLEASE if you know my brother or his fiance, do not disclose this project to them. I am rather certain neither of them are on Facebook or blogger or anything else right now, so I am going to step out on a limb and ask for a little feedback about this sonnet, dedicated to them. It's part of the poem-a-day project, so even though it is technically a first draft, I've been sitting here for an hour and a half making sure the endlines rhyme correctly. The meter is a bit of a mess, but I think I have five "beats" in each line - even if it isn't straight iambic pentameter (I'm pretty sure that's "required" in a sonnet... not that Bill and Rachel will care one way or the other).


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Picture Book

I don't like my title. Oh well.

Picture Book
His gentle dumb expression turnd at length
The Eye of Eve to mark his play; he glad
Of her attention gaind, with Serpent Tongue
Organic, or impulse of vocal Air,
His fraudulent temptation thus began.
- Book 9, lines 527-531, Paradise Lost by John Milton

My children identify animals,
name and order according to their kinds.
We turn to reptiles, son and daughter
shrieking, “Snakes are scary!”
and I agree, an after-Eden Eve.

But being ten, I watched a garter glide
between my hands, my voice tasting innocent
on his tongue. I followed his twist
over my wrist, the simple movement
like memory, so steady the snake’s body
trickled like mist pooling on leaves.

We turn the page in the picture book –
eagles, owls, cranes, flamingos, doves –
celebrate the birds of peace, strength, paradise
who cast their shadows on the earth
and dive, snatch the snake from wild grasses,
smooth path trailing away from a tree,
a corner of the garden stolen, hunger satisfied.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I almost didn't write a poem tonight because, well, I'm lazy. And my body said no. But since my body didn't have to do much to write and since I followed the lead of a friend to make the "Mosaic of Me" on Facebook (which should technically appear below), I decided there had to be a poem in some of these pictures. So here's what came out tonight. I don't know what the deal is with all of the other-worldly thoughts lately, but I guess I just like to think about heaven. And the process of getting there. Something about the season I suppose.



Saturday, April 4, 2009

In Our Backyard

... a tentative title... and, as all poems go with April PAD, a work in progress. It was time for a poem about my brothers :)

In Our Backyard

In our backyard, we were always digging.
We needed to practice the art
of going deeper, how best to slant
the shovel, step, jump – open up the earth,
dump and sift larger granules for finer grains

of sand. We used the tools of our father –
placed our child-sized hands on the back
of dump trucks and crawled, knees
soaking up damp sand. It was important
to be close to the ground.

Mountains moved in our backyard
as we built castles, buried Matchbox cars,
redirected rivers with the water
from our garden hose, our landscape
slowly eroding down into the valley.

We excavated sea floor fossils
from limestone in the driveway,
gathered up bones, stacked each stone –
miniature monuments to our family’s
land, quarrel, eternal sweat.

Excavating runs in blood –
it is all the same trade, really –
one brother digs holes to unearth
impossible boulders, negotiate roots,
measure depth and drainage.

The other takes what is broken,
welds it together, knows metal
is stronger at the point of fracture,
shapes steel into custom framework.
We grow out of the same tilled soil;

we are trying to give order to chaos,
make sense of brokenness, create
something from the ground beneath us,
exhume the passions of a childhood
buried in a backyard sandbox.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

PAD Challenge and Creek Walk

April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate, I've decided to again take up the challenge to write a poem-a-day. I altered the challenge a bit last year to only happen on the weekdays unless I felt particularly inspired on the weekends, so I will likely stick to these guidelines again this year. My kids and husband deserve some attention at least on the weekends ;)

To kick things off, I'd like to mention how I started this afternoon carrying around a notebook in my hooded sweatshirt walking down the sidewalk with my kids. Apparently I thought I could sneak in a poem while Lydia rode her bike and Elvis wandered from grass to sidewalk to tree to grass to sidewalk. A laughable effort, to say the least. I was on the hunt for a poem - I came back with a son on my shoulders and the notebook rolled up in the pocket of my sweatshirt.

It was feeling like a very poor start to this challenge, but after the kids went to bed, I whipped out the notebook and started in on this poem (now in third draft form, maybe?):

Creek Walk

Wading in the stream to feel the current
find its way between my legs, I become
part of the riverbed, sediment blending
with my toes. I am woven with the wild
grasses on the banks, molded to the surface
of the earth in perfect curves, my body
fluid, rooted. I could be washed
away with a little extra rain.

What trickles harmless around me now
will expose the roots of ancient trees
downriver later, who lean toward light,
grow sideways to keep from sliding.
They too will join the rapid flow,
deteriorate and turn to sediment.

I dip my fingers in to feel the river
make room for me. I will participate
in this shifting of earth - dirt loosened
until the roots give way.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Explaining Easter to My Three-Year-Old

Imagine your marshmallow Peeps devoured by your brother
without one lick of sticky sweetness, the giant chocolate rabbit
melted in the sun. Even your mother and father –
those great false gods – have eaten every jelly bean,
taken away the pastel colored eggs. You hold your basket,
empty, save for some stringy plastic grass.

This is how Good Friday feels, like waiting
to be taken to the playground all day and then
it rains, like wanting to wear pink but all that’s clean
is gray. And then you are sent to time-out, told to sit still
for three minutes, which is almost more than you can bear.

This is more than you can bear, but be still,
consider how much you had hoped for that delicious
candy basket, how you had dreamed to wear
the most beautiful gown, to hold the bunny’s cotton paw,
to savor those puffy, yellow Peeps.

Now, my daughter, let us rejoice – time-out is finally over,
see the basket overflowing, Cadbury eggs, Reese’s pieces,
pastel M&Ms, more chocolate bunnies
and sugar-coated marshmallows than you could ever eat,
sweetness you can share with the whole starving world.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


It has been a great week of a forced fast from the computer, kind of - with mobile uploads and Twitter's mobile connect to Facebook, I have been able to give the appearance of an online presence ;) Thank God for Twitter and its ability to make sure everyone knows what normal and uninteresting things I am doing on a day-to-day basis.

I had three days off from work this week so that Brandon could go on a baseball road trip. The excellent husband and father needed the break from full-time dadhood, so it was a good time for him; plus, he was just offered the head coach position for next season! Hooray! This is great news for him - his dream job is coaching full-time for a college, and this is one more step in the right direction.

While he was gone, I spent lots of quality time with the kids and also prepared for the Shape in a Misshapen World Arts Festival, which was a great event - the readings went very well and the art on display received many compliments. It was a wonderful weekend event that left me just a bit exhausted, but nothing too stressful.

OH and the BEST news this week is that my chapbooks arrived on Saturday! Hooray!

I received some more good news this week, too - The Fourth River selected my poem, "Stumps" for publication in the Spring 2010 issue, and my poem, "The Angry Gardener" was given an honorable mention in the Akron Art Museum's New Words 2009 Poetry Contest - it was one of eight finalists out of 395 submissions! I will be reading with the other finalists and featured reader on April 19th at the Akron Art Museum.

I am still buzzing about all of this. It is such a good feeling to know that you've found what you were made to do. Or at least to feel like you've found what you were made to do. I am acutely aware of what success can do to one's ego. I do not want to forget that poetry, or any work I do, for that matter, is not about me and my success but rather what God can accomplish through it. One of my friends in our small group Bible study said this week, in response to my concerns about being overly confident, said that there is a fine line between confidence and pride, and that fine line steps from serving God to self-serving.

In many ways I don't know what to do next, in regards to poetry. I am working on a draft of my first full-length manuscript right now, getting feedback from poet friends on order and arc and what-not, but what I don't know is whether I should be thinking about going for my graduate degree, either MFA or something else, or whether I am right where I need to be. Another thing my friend said on Thursday that really struck a chord with me is that often, once we've found our niche and begin to succeed, we have a tendency to be rewarded or promoted straight out of that place that God put us - the sweet spot where we are most productive. Even though some pursuits may seem like good ideas, they might not be God's idea, or God's timing. This is something I've been thinking a lot about with my career as a poet (if you can call being a poet any sort of "career"). Is going for a higher degree right now or in the near future a good idea, God's idea, both, or neither?

When I think about it in terms of my family, I think going back to school right now would be putting myself before every other member in my family. It would be a seriously selfish move - especially since Brandon has been planning to go back to school for a few years now. I don't think it is right or fair to him or my children to take on yet another project, especially when I am already over-committed with work, church, and my poetry as it is. I think in a few years, once the kids are in school and the husband is almost done or finished with his master's, the timing will be better. And who knows where we will be a few more years down the road? I certainly never predicted we'd be here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Calling Hours

2 Samuel 14:14

Cry, but know your tears will not help
carry me down the Yellow Creek,
where I will meet so many other
happy rafters in the Ohio River –
kick our feet and let our fingers

dangle in the waters. We will tie
our rafts together as we swing
into the Mississippi, hold hands,
anticipate which way the current
turns and ride the stream with glee.

Your grief will dampen the soil,
trickle through the earth to crease
a way from tributary to the slated
river bed, swallowed by waters
rushing to the broadest sea,

where I will sink into the depths
of light, dive beneath the surface,
like so many others, to be free.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cascade Valley

Look, my daughter, the pine tree
dropped its seeds, and here
a fragile sapling braves the forest floor.
This used to be a birch tree
but maybe lightning sliced it,
wind heaved its heavy breath against it
and now the trunk is rust.
Sticks used to flirt, flare
their skirts of springtime buds,

but now we throw the broken limbs
into the rushing floodwaters to see
how quickly we could be carried away.
We are always a hair too close
to the edge, send pebbles skittering
into the river. Let's find our way back
from this spring rage, out of the valley
that catches what used to cling above.

Climb this mountain with its muddy paths,
deer trails, tread marks, hoof prints,
decomposing oaks - we are not the first
to grow and fall. But see the way the leaves
return to earth, the way the dust collects.
Crocus blades emerge from crumbling stumps
as if this growth does not take more than soil,
light, and rain. Reach down, my child,
bring a pine cone home to show
how miraculously we are carried.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Homecoming

Tuba bells catch stadium light in the end zone,
flash it to cymbals, who wait at attention
in the percussion section. In the stands,
parents bundle under blankets, wave to friends.
Elementary boys wear oversized jerseys and blue jeans,
chase girls with bags of popcorn and fruit punch.
Their older siblings gather in corners, drink Pepsi,
eat pizza, go out into the night with fragile confidence.

The director paces the goal line, then signals
Instruments Up! and the crisp fall air
fills with "The Old Colonial March," low brass
and bass drum escalating into squeaks and trills
from clarinet and piccolos as the band steps off,
an eight-in-five march down field. The audience claps
a dutiful round and waits for the invitation
to rise to their feet. The director cues the snare
who rolls off - O Say, can you see?

Stars and stripes flap steadily in the late evening,
all heads turned, all hearts covered. Some sing,
but most have forgotten the words, hum along,
or hold tight to caps - and the home of the brave.
Then the cut-off, three taps into the fight song.
Now the crowd is giddy with cheers, yelling,
"We're gonna fight fight fight for every score!"

After the procession to the bleachers, the coin toss,
the kick off, all boo when the ref throws a yellow flag.
Cheerleaders chant DEFENSE and prance, pom poms shining,
swishing down the track. Dads lean against the fence
and count the seconds their sons get to play,
tally tackles and fumbles for post-game breakdowns.
Moms sip hot chocolate and gossip under their blankets.
Daughters walk in huddles and whisper five feet behind
an oblivious pack of boys - fingers in their belt loops.
The girls giggle when one turns and smiles.

And the younger children zig between,
learn their lessons well, never wonder
at the simple patterns, calculated plays,
choreographed routines. The chill will grow deeper
as the season of passion swings to a close,
home team victorious, or not. We all return to that year,
that night, when the lights hit the field and made it magic,
the way the band played, the extra point into overtime,
words exchanged in the bleachers, the unbeatable defeated.
We all come home to this Friday night.

Back to Health

I took a leave from blogging/reading/writing/thinking for about a week due to sinus infections and roto viruses which amounted to a lot of nasty bodily fluids in our house in the last few weeks. Ew. I will spare the blog world every grotesque detail. Suffice it to say, it was a sort of comedy of tragedies - sick kids, sick mom, and lots of Purell.

Now that I feel human again, it is almost as if I could take on the world. I'm feeling really energized and glad that the weather turned a bit to complement the mood. Lydia and I went on a two mile hike in Cascade Valley Metro Park yesterday, which was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. We went shopping with Grandma Rose in the morning and ate lunch at Chick Fila (hooray for Chick Fila! - love it.). In the evening, Brando and I went to the Zips/Bulls game at the Q with some friends... and the Akron Zips won! Another hooray - for good ole' fashioned date night at a basketball game - and for a Northeast Ohio team winning some sort of championship. Always cause for celebration.

Today there are very few plans except for me to head back to Ashland tonight for small group. We're currently studying David and Bathsheba's affair, David's plot to kill Bathsheba's husband Uriah, the confrontation from Nathan, the confession from David, and the immediate death of the infant son born of Bathsheba, followed by the conception/birth of Solomon. QUITE a time in David's life!

I have a few poems brewing that I plan on getting out in the next few days - one on paper now that I think I'll type in here in a minute. Most of writing happens in the experience away from the desk, and I've had some time and experiences to start that work of writing.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stealing Ideas and Old French Language "Roots"


In the words of a poet friend of mine, *poof!*
So, I have a secret I need to spill. I rob Wikipedia, Google, and the Bible of all their good ideas. I am a thief. I admit it. This poem is a good example and an easy entrance into confession.

First, I have been trying to write all. Day. Long. Well, here and there anyway - it has been really busy at work lately and SURPRISE SURPRISE there hasn't been time for me to fiddle with my own poetry. I know, sad story. But even though I can't actually sit at my desk and type the poems, I usually have something I'm writing simmering in my head, or trying to latch on to an idea that could become a poem. I'm not pleased with either of the two versions of "A Voice in the Crowd at Capernaum," but I think it's probably a little bit because it was forced inspiration. I don't do well when I try to tell the Holy Spirit to inspire me.

On that note, I decided to try a new activity and opened the Bible to any random section. The first verse I read began, "Can a mortal be of use to God?" (Job 22:2). I thought, "How fortunate! I didn't land in Leviticus!" But this got me thinking about whether we can affect God - with worship, with prayer, etc. In one of my small group Bible studies, we just read about David and his fervent prayers for his infant son who God struck ill because of what David did to Bathsheba's husband, Uriah. The discussion guide (Beth Moore! Woo!) led us to think about why we pray - if God can be swayed by prayer - and the short answer is, yes, but it is up to God if, when, and how he will answer.

So I started to think about what my prayers feel like sometimes, and for some reason, I decided that it's like blowing the seeds off of a dandelion head. I don't know why. It just is, okay? Which made me look up dandelions. I found this one website - on the Common Dandelion - that gave me some really good facts to build a poem on. A few of my favorites that I "stole" --

They're so deeply toothed, they gave the plant its name in Old French: Dent-de-lion means lion's tooth in Old French.

And, this:

Each flower head consists of hundreds of tiny ray flowers.


The flower head can change into the familiar, white, globular seed head overnight. Each seed has a tiny parachute, to spread far and wide in the wind. The thick, brittle, beige, branching taproot grows up to 10" long. All parts of this plant exude a white milky sap when broken.

How great is, "the thick, brittle, beige, branching taproot?" Thank you, "Wildman" Steve Brill, for your uber-descriptive dandelion webpage. I could not resist, of course, the lion reference.

So that's how this poem came to be. If I ever win a Pushcart for it, I will stand behind the podium in my living room and thank God, Google, and Wildman Steve Brill publicly for their generosity.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Version 2 - A Voice in the Crowd at Capernaum

John 6

What I really need to know is how the callouses
blossomed on your fingers. I want to feel
the bristle of your beard on my cheek,
place my hands around the feet
of the man who feeds. You know

why I've come here: to make the impossible
become miraculous, to turn your vengeance
into grace, to learn the difference between bread
and sustenance, to be the bride for whom you'll die.
How can you bear to know these things?

Who can accept this? Lord, to whom can we go?
Give me this bread in flesh and blood always.

(I think I like this version better, but since it is late and it is draft two, I decided to save both.)

A Voice in the Crowd at Capernaum

John 6

I have come up with a hundred reasons why
you are unbelievable – you are, after all, just a son
of some carpenter, the illegitimate offspring
of a teenage mother. I know where you’ve come from.

Still I’m intrigued – I want to know more
about the man who fed five thousand,
his mysterious disappearance across the lake
without a boat – when did you get here?

You know what I really need to know –
why you matter more than the ceramic Buddha
made in China, more than the 6 a.m. yoga,
more than some cross necklace from my grandmother,

more, even, than the law you claim to have written.
How do priests prophesy about you,
dead fathers walk with you – why do you divide
bread and fish, why turn water into wine?

I need to know how the impossible becomes
miraculous, what turns vengeance into grace,
how to differentiate between bread and sustenance.
who are you to decide when I must swim and when to walk?

But what I’ll ask, instead, is – When did you get here?
What do you mean? How do you know these things?
Who can accept this? Lord, to whom can we go?
Give me this bread in flesh and blood always.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"recipe for love"

(Thanks, Mary!)

For six hours this afternoon, I was without wedding rings. If you've ever worn a ring or other piece of jewelry daily for five years, you know that feeling of the lost appendage. I took it off to get ready for kneading dough and then an hour later could not find them anywhere. I searched the whole kitchen, the bedroom, bathroom, living room, dining room, dishwasher, fridge (you never know), ANYWHERE I could think. I knew they had to be in the house somewhere - I remembered taking them off; I knew almost the exact minute I took them off.

After small group, I came back home and pulled down the cookbook with the really good Italian cheese bread recipe I had made for Bible study to give a copy of it to one of the girls, and lo and behold - my rings. Tucked into the cookbook. What relief!

I have nothing particularly insightful to share about this experience except that great saying, "It's always in the last place you look." Duh.

I have plans to go to Toledo tomorrow evening to spend the night with my hubby. We are overdo for an evening together, and my mom is planning on coming down to watch the kids. I have mixed feelings about this -- 95% of me is rejoicing because I haven't seen my husband for more than an hour on any given day since February 6. The other 5% is sorry that I'm bailing once more on my kids. Lydia is especially aware of my absence lately - not that she is particularly difficult to deal with when I am gone, but she verbally recognizes that she misses me and loves that I'm here with her. It's so sweet it just cracks your heart into a million little ol' pieces, dontcha know!

Elvis quietly exited the cling-tight-to-mommy phase and has entered the see-ya-later-mom phase. He'll be playing with an excavator or mini-farmer when I'm getting ready to leave, and I'll say, "Bye, Elvis!" and he'll say, "Bah!" without even looking up, and then when he realizes I'm serious, he'll get up and run arms outstretched toward me for his parting hug. And then he's done - ready to play some more. Is this the same child who cried the ENTIRE time I was gone a few months ago?

They are getting so big. So smart. So beautiful. So irresistable.

I'm most definitely smitten. I just did a search to make sure smitten was the word I was looking for, and here's some news - there's a product called "Smitten" -- it's a mitten for two! This has to be made by the same people who created the wearable blanket.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Psalm 40

Psalm 40

These boots by the door are still caked
with hardened clay, their leather darkened
by water, still swelling, absorbing,
the flannel lining damp and pungent.
Clumps of mud stick to the kitchen floor,
discarded here and there from the field
that pulled and sucked until I was stuck.
I will not use the broom - I like the imprints
left behind, the way that visitors trip
on my oversized steel-toed boots and gasp –
how high the line of mud rides up,
how great the crumbs of dust.

Let me tell you about these boots,
I will say, about the field, the mire, the muck,
the slow, steady suction, the way I reached
for branches, the way the grasses bent and broke
when I pulled. Let me tell you again how I trembled,
how my hands hung idle, how a farmer
saw me, bent down to loosen my laces,
stretched out his hand, how I stepped from the sludge
in just my socks, mud oozing between my toes,
found a protruding rock, breathed deep,
“Thank God you came by when you did.”
I leave them here to remember the swale.

(Companion piece to The Swale)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jesus Walks into a Bar

(This is for Sean Lovelace, who insists there ought to be more poems about Jesus walking into a bar.)

It is always darker than it should be,
but over the pool table, a halo
of florescent light. My father, his brother,
like weathered sailors, dock at the bar
with other tired shipmates, hunched,
feet propped on the reflective footrests,
haunches resting heavy in the seat.
Through the haze of Winstons
they watch Nascar. The rules on bar stools
are simple: buy a round, put some quarters
on the table for a game of pool,
pick a tune or two on the juke box.

A shaft of light splits the cloud of smoke
when the door swings open, and a man
not so unlike the deckhands lined up at the bar
walks in. Heads turn and nod, weary hands lift
a slow acknowledgement as he orders up a Miller
then tromps to the juke box in mud-caked boots
and hovers, punches in his number, and Hank sings
There’s a tear in my beer and I’m crying for you dear…

“Rack ‘em up,” he grunts. My father
and the stranger call corners, waltz around the felt
taking shots and drinking rounds, shake hands
when the eight ball drops, leaving the chalk-smeared
cue to idle on the table. Dad lays five dollars
on the bar, “This one’s on me,” and they drink –
to peace, to love, to redemption.
The men at the bar tip their caps and turn
to watch the man descend the stairs
before the door closes. “That guy’s
all right,” Dad says, taking up his bottle,
“I hope he returns someday.”

Monday, February 16, 2009


Wrap your atmosphere around me –
I do not want to be the moon, unable to deflectt
he smallest cosmic speck. I flinch and dodge
a thousand bullets in a meteor shower,
yearn to watch the light show at night without fear.
Without you, my surface is sensitive – I bruise
at the slightest affront, scurry away to nurse each hurt.
If I must wear the craters of personal implosions
and exterior stonings, dress them in deep blue water
with stunning clarity so that none may question
why this happened but only know that nothing
so beautiful and pure could come without pain.
Plant in my volcanic cavity a hemlock tree
so all will witness how you’ve rooted yourself
in my explosive fragility and called me strong.


There is no el train in Auburn, no steady rumble
like long thunder on a summer afternoon.
Instead, Suburbans honk and veer behind
my neighbor’s combine, pass and speed to the light,
line up at four-ways for permission to turn.

The Cleveland and Eastern Interurban
used to pass through here, the Maple Leaf Route
curving slow through Newbury out to Amish country,
its steady clacking carrying produce and passengers
in to the big city to see a show at the Hippodrome.

Today, the maples shiver and dance along the upraised curve
as if a train has just passed through, but it is only me,
the wind. I do not hear the click-clack on the raised track,
the crowd of impatient travelers standing in the woods waiting
for the junction’s switch to take them north or further west.

Now the forest and road are silent; last season’s leaves
crunch steadily beneath my feet. Syrup oozes slow and thick
from its tap into cold, steel buckets. A car swings south down
Munn Road, wondering at the steady slope in the woods
and then the thought is gone, fleeting as the season’s

leaves along this path. The sun rolls steady on its track
across the blue, though I’m the one who’s moving – I
and the farmer and the Suburban and the earth composting
beneath my feet. How slow the shift in shadows; how soon
I’m surprised to be chilled in the late afternoon.


I have Chicago's el trains to thank for this poem. Lots of inspiration from Chicago - hope to write more in the coming days if work and other responsibilities don't overwhelm.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cashing In

Okay, it must be divine appointment weekend here in Chicago. After ANOTHER great night out with some really interesting and intelligent writers, I got off of the el (how cool am I to use the lingo of Chicago?) at Harrison Ave. and begin walking back toward the hotel. It's a crisp 30ish degrees out, and I am feeling alive. Alive, feeling the ache and wear of three days walking around the city, breathing in clarity and exhaling exhilaration. Next to a fenced parking lot (and underneath a streetlight, for all of you paranoid and worried mothers out there), a woman asked as she began to walk past if I was familiar with the city, to which I promptly replied, No, sorry. The poor lady was almost in tears and shaking like it's nobody's business to shake. She started going on, sobbing and hiccuping, about how she drove into the city and parked her car somewhere, and the car had been towed to some lot on 18th street, and she needed to get to it, had a driver's license and wallet to prove she wasn't some nut, and just needed $20 dollars more or so to get her car out of the impound.

I prayed with the lady, whose name turns out to be Patricia, and she praises Jesus all over the place, shouts a hallelujah and says she will repay me, asks for a name of a church or something so she can send something to me care of so-and-so. I wasn't going there so I just said you go ahead and give to a charity to take care of whatever she needs. And then we hugged and she cried and I gave her some money (how I am going to appropriately reconcile all of the expenses for this trip is going to be an adventure, let me tell you - I will not be getting reimbursed much once I factor in cash) and off she went.

All this time the fear and panic meter is ticking steadily around low to medium gauge, somewhere about the caution rate. I keep thinking some guy is going to run across the street and snatch my purse as I'm closing my eyes and putting my arm around the woman in the long coat with a fur-lined hood to pray that the Lord would protect her and ease her fears. Ease my fears, ease my fears. All this time, I'm weighing the cost - does she really, truly need my help to get her car out of the impound, or is she one very gifted actress working the out-of-towners at the Hilton Chicago? Is this her way - walking the block with nervous hands - to con skeptical but trusting tourists into generosity without begging? And does it matter which scenario is true?

As I'm typing this, it occurs to me I heard a similar version of Patricia's story earlier this week, told by a friend at the conference, and I suddenly feel douped. Was this a divine appointment or merely a scam artist? As I read an article on that sick feeling of douped-ness settles in my stomach. SCAM! Did she not have one credit card? Claiming to have driven six hours into the city and then to have her car towed, she successfully eliminated a nearby friend or relative option, but no credit card?

I feel taken advantage of in some ways and then just plain silly, walking away from her feeling as if I've just connected with another human being at her point of need, smiling and light. How does one pull such a fantastic trick, such fraudulent faith and hope, such an orchestrated deceit?

Or is the skeptic in me rising up, vaguely aware of the depravity of mankind, ready to harden her heart to any pleas for help for fear of being taken advantage of.

I think what I need to settle in, because it's 11 p.m. CST which means it's midnight EST (and we all know what happens at midnight), is that my motives were sincere. My concern and prayer was sincere, though cautionary, senses on alert. Perhaps my business is not to know the outcomes of tonight but to know that I had an opportunity to be a light to a lady in some way, and if she got the better of me - it's on her soul. I hope she was true and authentic. But if not, I hope she finds a warm place to sleep, eats a filling meal, and works toward a day when she can use her theatrical talents to glorify God rather than trick a tourist.

Entertaining Angels

On the way back from meeting some friends in Wrigleyville tonight, a homeless guy sat down next to me on the train and claimed that he would improv a poem on any topic I could offer for some money. Curious and amused, I said okay. Without more than a second's hesitation, the guy composed a delicious poem that probably would have taken me hours to write out with a keyboard sitting in front of me. We talked for the remainder of the train ride about faith, trying to be like Christ, and how we personally have fallen short or feel like we still struggle. It was a great exchange, and I am glad he decided to sit down next to me. In many ways it was a humbling conversation -- I can't improv poetry - it would be a disaster. Even the draft I had jotted down of a poem earlier this evening was disastrous compared to the quite eloquent little ditty he pulled out of nowhere.

It was another great day and has ended on a strange, unexpected note.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

While flying in to Chicago this morning, I was thinking about Horton Hears a Who, and how all of the Whos down in Whoville were shouting all in unison, "We are here! We are here! We are here!" so that their voices could be heard by the mean, old kangaroo, but their atmosphere wouldn't let the sound out, until Joe-Joe gave a shout that pushed the sound right out of the atmosphere. I love this movie for many reasons, but unrelated to those reasons is the fact that the earth has an atmosphere.

Watching a movie about space (perhaps Apollo 13?), the astronauts are concerned that if they do not hit the earth's atmosphere at just the right speed and angle, they could skip off of it into space and be lost forever... or, charge in too fast and be burned up before ever hitting land. I am grateful for this atmosphere that protects us from all sorts of flying debris in space, like meteors. We could be like the moon, pock-marked and plantless with no real barriers from what the universe has to fling at us. The earth's atmosphere is kind of like the Holy Spirit in this way. Or, it could be like the saying, "I'm rubber, you're glue - whatever bounces off me sticks to you."

Somewhere in this bit of thought is a poem that might say it more eloquently than this, but I have no flash drive (forgot it in Ohio), and I don't have time to work on it before eating. So maybe later tonight, when I don't feel like being social anymore. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pre-AWP Blather

Tomorrow, I head out to Chicago for the AWP Conference, and to prepare for the adventure, I spent all evening playing ring around the rosie, duck duck goose, reading books and coloring, giving baths, singing, and praying with my children. Could there be better preparations for going away?

I wrote over on Finding Gemstones about the latest in my world of child bearing. The last you probably heard from me about the topic was "no more, I think I'm done." Well, it must be baby season because I've caught the fever. I don't know what really put me over the edge, but tonight as I was watching my babes swimming in the tub a thought occurred to me: I may regret not having more children, but I would never regret having more children.

Which is why I need to get to work on my husband, and by that I mean not nagging and begging and using all sorts of persuasive reasoning but praying that God would soften his heart to the idea. No negotiations on my part are going to make him feel one way or the other about this.

SO that's brewing in my mind lately, and once it starts to brew, I can't seem to shut it off. I start calculating the timing of a pregnancy in relation to work (pregnant now = very good timing; pregnant in July = worst timing ever, pregnant in December = good timing). I begin fiddling with formulas of Lydia in preschool + Brandon in seminary - Elvis at home + Elvis potty-trained - working full-time + budget = realistic expectations for maintaining sanity. We come out somewhere around a 40% chance of insanity, which isn't so bad - we're already insane about that amount of time, so what's the big difference? I also start rearranging bedrooms in my mind - would we make Lydia's room a baby room and move her into Elvis's room, or would the baby (boy/girl) move in with big brother/sister depending on the gender?

All of this doesn't matter because I'm not pregnant, and I don't have a family consensus on the topic, but this is how my mind works, people! Do you see how completely crazy I am underneath this facade of composure?

I'm not sure what my Internet capabilities will be the remainder of the week in Chicago, though I might request Internet service in my room, since it could be applied as part of the conference expense. We are, after all, in the middle of admissions season. I can't leave people hanging high and dry for five days straight. Right? So I'll probably poke back in with an AWP update. Have a great night!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Just Plain Good Day

I experienced an unusual burst of energy around 5:15 after getting off of the phone with a prospective student. That's the only possible cause I can come up with for what followed - there was no caffeine involved, so that couldn't be it, but perhaps just having an opportunity to connect with another person on the phone and feel as if I successfully promoted the program I love was enough to give me a buzz.

When I walked into the door (20 minutes later than usual), Brandon had dinner made (chicken paprika!! YUM!!) and the kids were playing contentedly in the living room. I received my routine-but-never-rote MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY! from Lydia and MUM! MUM! MUM! from Elvis followed by hugs all around. After eating dinner, a dance party swung into high gear in our living room, with the Beatles and Beach Boys and all sorts of spinning and laughing happening. Brandon got ready to leave for baseball practice, and Lydia and I commenced a tug of war with her jump rope, which apparently is the funniest thing Elvis has ever witnessed because the poor kid could hardly catch his breath from laughing so hard. Dad got ready to go and received his round of hugs and kisses and BAH! from Elvis and BYE HAVE FUN! from Lydia. And then I got ready to go to Bible study, the sitter showed up, and off I went.

It was the best hour and a half of my day.

Not to make it sound like the remaining 22.5 hours were not great - they just pale in comparison to singing to the Beach Boys and tickling my kids.

Actually, the other 22.5 hours were quite lovely, as well, starting with a lot of AWP planning (next week, already?!), River Teeth promos, and then lunch with a friend from church about the upcoming Festival of the Arts, which is going to be the best thing to hit Ashland since Lance Bakeries took over Archway. Yeah, that good.

And then the afternoon swung into gear with a little budgeting here and a bit of editing there, and all in all it was a successful day. Nothing to knock you over with enthusiasm, but good. I like these kinds of days because there isn't this rollercoaster swell of exhilaration followed by an empty "what now that that's done and over?" feeling. It's the sort of good that flows over into the next day, if I'm lucky. A peaceful kind of good. It's good. I'm in a real good place right now - which means something is bound to happen to shake things up. It's only a matter of time. :)