Archive for October 2012

Self-Portrait of Celia Pratchett (NOSE DIVE)

October 27, 2012

The prompt for dVerse Poets Pub Poetics today, hosted by Fred Rutherford, is self-portrait.   Fred writes a really interesting essay about self-protraiture and I encourage you to check out his post.  Nonetheless, I find myself shying away from a direct self-portrait, so I am posting instead the self-portrait of a character of mine, Celia Pratchett, taken from my novel NOSE DIVE (published by BackStroke Books).

Yes, I know it’s prose – but I think/hope it reads much faster than it looks (and it is undoubtedly way more fun than my direct self-portrait would be.)   Thanks much to you who try it!  The drawing below is by the wonderful Jonathan Segal.


From NOSE DIVE, by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Jonathan Segal

NOSE DIVE   (Excerpt from Chapter I)

(The hills are alive…with the sound of music.)

Maybe. But first period assembly was comatose with the boredom of teenagers. Even people’s yawns stretched out in slow-mo.

(A song they have sung…for a thousand years.) 

Then Brad Pierson sauntered to the podium. A lot of yawns filled instantly with drool.

“Yo Brad,” some girl wailed.

Brad smiled. It was a sheepish, glinty smile, the kind that commercials flash above surfboards.

I looked back down to my Bio notes, trying to cram for my next period test. Brad was in my Pre-Cal class but that was about the only thing we had in common: he was captain of the tennis team and hung out with the cool popular kids while I sang in the school chorus and hung out with Deanna, my one true friend since age five. Deanna was plenty cool in her way, but I wasn’t. For example, the title song of The Sound of Music was just then spinning around my head.

(The hills fill my heart with the sound of music.)  

I really love The Sound of Music—actually, I love the sound of almost any musicbut I wouldn’t mind if it stayed clear of my brain once in a while.

Brad, after gently adjusting the microphone, gave a cute little waist-level wave.

‘ATP stands for—’ I scribbled in my notebook.

“With the help of Principal Eggars—” Brad said.

(My heart wants to sing every song….) 

“—I’m arranging for the spring musical to be part of a new TV reality show.”

The auditorium inhaled one huge “omg.” Even the singing in my brain came to halt.

“The show is going to be called ‘Musical!” Brad went on.  “And the TV people are going to film everythingthe rehearsals, the showeverything.  And it’s going to be way better than all those other high school musical shows because it’s going to be all about us cool kids at Spenser.”

“Braaaaaddd!” someone shouted.

“Just a minute there, Mr. Pierson.”

The plaid jacket of Principal Eggars hovered beside Brad’s arm (Brad’s perfectly tanned, not-too-buff-but-tautly-muscled arm).

“The school’s participation in the TV program is not a done deal,” boomed Principal Eggars, a man who knew how to get the most out of a mike. “I only asked Brad to make the announcement today because his father has been so instrumental in making the show a serious possibility.”

A weighty pause followed as we all pictured a slightly greying, slightly heavier Brad-clone.

“I also wanted to assure you that if the program does go through, every effort will be made to avoid any disruption in your academic studies, which, as always, are the top priority here at Spenser.”

Brad gave a big ‘oh sure’ kind of nod.

“Many details still need to be worked out by Mr. Pierson, Brad’s father…and myself, of course. But if you have any immediate questions—”

Brad scooted his beautiful sun-bleached head to the mike again, “ask me.”

“I guess that’s right for the time being,” Principal Eggars sighed.

“I love you, Brad!” came a wail.

Wow.  I slowly closed my Bio notebook.

I love musicals. Yes, I sing them in my head, but I sing them out loud too. (Ask my older sister!) I am also a pretty good musical singer. (Her name is Maddy.) Not only because I’ve been practicing along with Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, and the Little Mermaid since age two (Maddy’ll tell you), but also because I happen to have this really big singing voice. (Man, will she tell you!)

I don’t like to brag, but I think I also have a pretty good singing voice. I had a chorus part in last year’s musical, even as a lowly freshman, with a couple of solo lines too.

As Principal Eggars dismissed us and I waited for my row to move, I remembered how much fun last year’s musical had been. My heart felt like dancing just thinking about it.

(To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls… over stones on the way.)

And then my dancing heart just tripped, only not like a laughing brook.

Because my heart was remembering something else about last year’s show—the clips of it posted online after the first performance.

Which also made me remember Hank.

How could I forget Hank?

Hank was my nose, huge, curved, bulbous, pointed at the tip—the bane of my entire existence.

Okay, maybe not my entire existence, the bane of my existence for the last year.

It seems odd, I guess, but until I entered high school (actually, until I saw those clips of myself in last year’s musical), I had never really thought much about Hank. Oh, I knew he…it was prominent. (My mom’s word was “strong.”) But that had never bothered me. Maybe because Hank was my dad’s nose.

I was too young when my dad died to truly remember him, but when my mom and sister and I looked at old pictures or videos, it had always made me feel proud—sad, but proud—to have a nose almost exactly like his.

But after seeing those clips last year, everything changed. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes, or, maybe, my nose. I could suddenly see it clearly. How could I miss it? Hank was gi-normous.

As a free space opened in front of me, I straightened my backpack over my shoulders, trying to feel more positive.

(I go to the hills…when my heart is lonely.) 

It was hard. Being on TV would be way worse than being on the Internet. TV cameras take close-ups. In focus. Women in those focused TV close-ups do not have Hanks in the middle of their faces, not even women in local weight loss commercials who have lost two hundred pounds and whose noses shouldn’t matter.

I stared glumly around the auditorium. Brad was on the other side. Even on normal days, he stood out like a castle, male turret circled by girl moat. In the minutes since the announcement, the moat had swollen to a girl river, maybe even a girl sea.

The only bright spot on the horizon was Deanna, who waded straight towards me. (Deanna, who is both super tall and a little bit large around the middle, is not particularly fazed by girl moats.) Her hair was dyed silver blue to match a new book bag she carried. It looked like a bag she had made; duct tape crisscrossed its sides in a complicated geometric pattern. Deanna was big on duct tape.

Just now, random strands of hair clung to that duct tape, some straight and blonde, some curly and dark. I tried to let the sight of those hairs, which I was pretty sure were from Brad’s girl moat, make me feel better.

(My heart will be blessed with the sound of music.) 

I shook my head to get the song out.

(And I’ll sing…once… more.)

So much for that.

(Da daa da da daa.) 

If you’d like to know what happens next, get Nose Dive from Amazon, or on Kindle (for only 99 cents!)

Plaque (Friday Flash 55)

October 26, 2012



Increasingly, she had the feeling
that the only plaque she would every
be awarded would be made
of amyloid.

She pondered her acceptance speech:
“I prefer stainless actually,
mounted on some
nice bench.”

She imagined that bench
in a park. So much better than
in a brain. Not nearly so grey
most days.

Okay, okay, so what else can I think up on a late FRIDAY evening! Luckily my computer counted the words for me and there are just 55, so tell it to the G-man.

And if you’ve got extra energy, check out my books! Poetry, GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco). 1 Mississippi -counting book for lovers of rivers, light and pachyderms, orNose Dive. Nose Dive is available on Kindle for just 99 cents! Nose Dive really is very funny and light hearted, and 1 Mississippi is a lot of fun for little teeny kids.

Certain Songs (A Villanelle) With Turnips

October 25, 2012


Certain Songs (A Villanelle)

There are certain songs most poets like to jive —
your true love swoons, pretty tunes of longing so,
but some rhymed hearts need rougher food to thrive–

They just can’t drink deep from a honied hive,
even buzz-fudget around ‘hey dilly-do’
(which is a certain song some…um… poets jive.)

They skip the main course, focus on the side,
sing odes to turnips (forget the tournedo)
for these rhymed hearts need rougher food to thrive.

Oh sexy blue jeans ‘cross the blue-smoke dive;
oh peeling rose; oh first grade talent show–
are certain songs most poets like.  But to jive

in harsh-of-day-job unjust world, abide
on uptown curb the homeless crusted toe
that’s sometimes rimed–  Hearts need rough to thrive,

survive.  Suffering plumbs throat with sharp salive,
an acid against those lumps that keep voice low
in certain songs.  Most poets like to jive,
but some rhymed hearts need rougher food to thrive.


Agh!  I am posting this draft villanelle to dVerse Poets Pub’s Form For All hosted by the wonderful Samuel Peralta.  The odd thing was that I am so worried about the election that I started this villanelle focusing on the line –  “Osama’s dead and GM is alive”–but somehow could never work it in.  Yes, I know.  I need to calm down!  (And also, I think all poets pretty much deal with rough emotions.) 

You can hear the poem below.  It’s not the greatest reading, but does help delineate the pauses. 

The villanelle is one of my favorite forms, mainly because it has a built-in music.  (And also because you don’t have to come up with so many lines!)  Check out dVerse for more.  If you are interested in other (perhaps more polished) ones of mine, click here.    Actually, the most fun one is probably an illustrated one I did as a children’s story called Villain-elle.  (With elephants.) 


8 Mississippi!

October 24, 2012

“Eight Mississippi” From 1 MISSISSIPPI by Karin Gustafson

A day dealing with decisions has left me with little oomph for a new poem or political post, so I turn to…. MARKETING!

Above is a picture from my counting book 1 Mississippi.  If you like counting, elephants and rather watery watercolors, it may just be up your alley (or it might work for a small child you know.)

Or, if you feel like you already know how to count will enough, you may prefer Nose Dive, a very fun young adult book that features NYC, high school, Broadway musicals, phone sex (don’t worry!), and a generational discomfiture with Barbara Streisand.  (By Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Jonathan Segal.)

From NOSE DIVE – by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Jonathan Segal

Or GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco.)  Poetry, primarily formal poetry (sonnets, villanelles, pantoums.) 

All the books are published by BackStroke Books (my own imprint.) 

Thanks for your indulgence and support. 

Oddly Enough Why My Mom Is a Lifelong Democrat (Hay Knife, Fear Itself)

October 23, 2012

Oddly Enough Why My Mom Is a Lifelong Democrat (Hay Knife, Fear Itself)

When my mom was young, she fell,
wearing bunged-up shoes,
upon a hay-knife.

A hay knife
is what it sounds like–triangulated
blade in the bales, blood
gobbed, swept them shocked
to doctor’s, neighbor’s car so fast

she did not see until at last
among the wired instruments
that her own mother, in panting flash,
had pulled a dress inside-
over her work clothes, the seams
dissected veins, the backward buttons clotted
knots in flapped

was horrified.

For she knew that town
was down
on the poor, those (like them)
who lived
in rattled houses with

And what
would the doctor
think, and how–
burning in the full turn of
embarrassment–would her parents even
pay? all cheeks reddened
in the muttering scritch stitch–but prised
from her furied mind an image
of FDR, patrician whose voice made bearable
the endless jags
of static and threat, whose overseeing eye–
bright to her as some great bird’s–would not,
she was somehow certain,
look down heedlessly
on a poor girl
with bleeding

It was not
until the doctor spoke of luck
and the just-missing
of major organs that she noticed, above
the reversed collar twisted
like found
tourniquet, her mother’s
pallor, the seamed
hands running
up and down her layered arms
like creatures newly conscious of
a cage; not till then that she began to realize
how deep
the wound was.


So sorry the above is so long, but hopefully reads fast.  I am posting for MagPie Tales (in response to the picture above from the U.S. dollar posted by Tess Kincaid) and dVerse Poets Open LInk Night.  It is a true story – my mother survived the cut! (On her you know what!)  The Great Depression a terrible time for those like her family whose savings were lost in a foreclosed bank, that somehow still kept all its mortgages operational.   A nod here to Joy Anne Jones, Hedgewitch, who brought up FDR democrats the other day and got my mind running on this piece.  And of course a nod to my amazing mom who, at nearly 90, reads the New York Times every single day.

Autumn Grids (Adventures with iPhone And You Know What)

October 22, 2012

I was on a train this a.m. with an iPhone, which is the devil’s plaything–meaning a very handy tool for wasting time. On this trip, I played with the question of whether to “sharpen” a photo or otherwise alter.  I find this type of decision difficult, especially when working on the tiny screen.  Sometimes I can hardly tell the altered picture from the original.  Can you?   Hmmm….




“The Petite Mort” – Jueju

October 21, 2012


The Petite Mort

Some Renaissance poets called coming
“dying”; climax a seeming summing
of all life’s varied rites.
But, for women, whose plights

of troth and womb were
coupled (their harvest so unsure),
the metaphor tolled a bell–
fate’s arrival in passion’s swell.


Agh.  The above is my offering for Kerry O’Connor’s cool challenge on With Real Toads to write an English version of a Chinese form called Jueju involving quatrains and 5 word lines.  (Kerry is very industrious with these things.)  The poem is also supposed often to be suggestive of erotic love.  I’m not sure mine qualifiesbut it is certainly true that John Donne and Shakespeare (among others) used dying  as a sexual metaphor.  The French also sometimes call orgasm, “la petite mort.” 

Check out With Real Toads, and if you have a moment, my books!!!!! Poetry, GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco). 1 Mississippi -counting book for lovers of rivers, light and pachyderms, orNose Dive. Nose Dive is available on Kindle for just 99 cents! Nose Dive really is very funny and light hearted, and 1 Mississippi is a lot of fun for little teeny kids.