Archive for October 2014

Not Nightingale

October 31, 2014



Edith Cavell, British Nurse Executed in German- Occupied Belgium, 1915


Not Nightingale

When I was little, I read biography–
for the young seek heroes–books about women
especially–a hagiography
of possibilities, of those who were bent

like me, who might too have been raised to please.
There was an astronomer from Nantucket–
no joke–Maria Mitchell–and so I squeezed
a telescope out of Christmas, and stuck it

on our front sidewalk, trying for satellites.
Then Clara Barton, Edith Cavell–not
Florence Nightingale–except to the extent
that any nurse from a then-past war seemed a lot

like Florence Nightingale, and was subject
to confusion with her, none having a name
so apt–itself a balm, a cool compress–
Florence–on a bandaged head–and for the lame.

the grievous–Nightingale–a wing.  But the book
on Cavell was favorite, its cover dark
and lamplit, a woman cloaked in the look
of the secret and stalwart—nothing of the lark,

no, the nightingale, disguised perhaps as wren,
swallow–I know I read it thoroughly
and, on a trip to Brussels, searched on end
for Cavell’s alleged statue, but found only,

with my folks, the little peeing boy–
urinal fountain–I pretended to laugh
but stared hard.  (I was eight.) But what so
amazes me is that yesterday, years past

my crush on Cavell, I first read of her death
in front of a German firing squad.
World War I.  How in the world had that left
me blank?  My aging brain’s mockingbird

crows that I must have forgotten, but how
forget her last night’s words–”Patriotism
is not enough.  I must have no
hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Surely, my young mind would have clung to her
figure backed against a wall, would have looked
at that imagined stance from every angle;
Could I really let that go?  Or did the book

protect me, a young reader, undoubtedly
female, offering only episodic
Cavell?  And, if so–  if so–  what else in me,
my learned-scape, has been bowdlerized, picked

over?  I need, I tell myself, to learn more.
About everything.  I don’t want mown
facts, trimmed truths==let me read myself sore,
and those gaps that I still hide–let them be sown–

And let me remember what’s read–if I can’t,
let me read it again, re-catching light
from page and vow to illuminate the slant
of now, telescoping (better) the bright

flares that have lit so many dark trails,
but also, the dimmer lamps, for we old
seek heroes too; and though I love Nightingales,
brave Cavells, though I too would love to be bold–

those who simply have no hatred, bitterness
also fit a pantheon, their song,
whether caroled by day or night no less
sweet–something (while reading) to sing along.

Agh!  This is an absolute torturous draft poem for Susie Clevenger’s prompt on With Real Toads to write about a nightingale.    Edith Cavell was a British nurse who, when working in German occupied Belgium during World War I, nursed both allied and German soldiers, and helped some allied soldiers to escape.  She was tried and sentenced to death and, though many diplomatic efforts were made to save her, was shot by a German firing squad on October 12, 1915. 

Somewhere a fly

October 29, 2014


Somewhere a fly

Somewhere, a fly walks face,
proboscis probing
like a dowser’s forked stick,
as it will,
the plain of cheek,
the ridge of nose,
edging tarsal lace
about the pit of mouth,
cutting a slant
through stubble.

Somewhere, there is a great buzz
over a bulged belly
and a foot that was pounded board
rots to punk,

and a person–somewhere, a person,
becomes less human–
and now, I don’t speak of the dead–
by pinching others apart
as if these others were
flies on the face
of this planet, plucking

would-be wings, hanging limbs
as things, targeting with slews
of water, currents
of all sorts; somewhere,
someone is
stomping, starving,
caging, stomped,

and maybe acts of cruelty
are all too human,
even children trained
in their commission, wires
strapped to small waists,

and that feels the absolute worst,
though, in the area of treating people
like flies, turning people
into fly fodder, it’s kind of hard to say missiles are better,

just because they don’t have waists.


Here’s a very drafty poem, for Gabriella’s prompt on dVerse Poets Pub to write about war.  I had some further lines about waste, but well, didn’t put them in, as the point seemed clear.  I find it very difficult to write about this type of topic.  

And since I am in rant mode:  in terms of  war (and other things of that nature),  I urge everyone to get out and vote. I also urge everyone to support voting, and to call out voter ID laws for what they are–acts of suppression.  I have worked at polling sites, and can tell you that it is not only hard for some (especially the poor, the old and the young) to get original IDs, but also hard to maintain a current ID, especially if you don’t own a car, have some instability in your residence or don’t maintain an independent home (because you live, for example, with family members.)

Also, I don’t buy this business about there not being a difference in politicians.  I agree that there is a lot of venality in politics, but that is not an excuse not to vote. (And not to take efforts to stay informed.)  There are differences in politicians; your vote does make a difference.   Ask any woman who has ever taken birth control or needed it, or any woman who has been habitually paid less than a man doing the same job (i.e. ask any woman.)  Ask any one, like me, who has been able to have major cost savings relating to children’s health care because of the expansions allowed by the Affordable Care Act. 

Finally, please in the midst of this, consider checking out my new book, Nice, which takes place in the time of the Vietnam War.PP Native Cover_4696546_Front Cover

Poem in my October

October 27, 2014


Poem in my October

The apple trees, they radiate green light,
though the day itself is grey and all else brown,
and green they still will shine as day turns night

if you stand below their boughs, your own eyes bright,
if slips of smiles, like leaves, spin darkness round,
the apple trees, they’ll radiate green light.

But if, like me, you hold your head skin-tight,
a fruit that is all pit, its flesh all stone,
then green will find you still, as day turns night,

unripened, offering only bark to bite,
rind-footed through the autumn fields that ground
the apple trees they radiate.  “Green light,”

says every fear we face–if we look right
at it–for when these leaves will fall, they’ll make no sound,
even though their green now shines as day turns night

and they swim wind’s sea like fish with all their might
heedless of how they’re hooked from stem to mouth–
the apple trees, they radiate green light,
a green that steels all shine as day turns night.


Here’s a draft villanelle for Margaret Bednar’s Play It Again Sam prompt on With Real Toads, which recycles older prompts.  The specific prompt that inspired this poem was Kerry O’Connor’s wonderful essay on Dylan Thomas (and particularly on his poem “Poem in October.” )  Thomas would be 100 years old today. 

I’m not so sure about the last line, the entire last stanza–or the others either, come to think of it–but am facing a  jammed day so wanted to get this up before I lost track of Thomas’s birthday and all other poetic enterprises.   I also would frankly prefer the title “Poem in October,” but feel strange taking Thomas’s title!  (Though it is a bit generic) 


Newsprint Past

October 26, 2014

Junk News Speak

Newsprint Past

There were times and places
when what you purchased
came wrapped in old newspaper
folded as neatly around–let’s say–
your nubby mandarins
as a steam-pressed collar buttoned
over an Adam’s apple,
only tied with a string
and covering everything.

At the end of shopping,
you might carry a stacked jam
like so many ironed shirts
tailored for people with trapezoidal
torsos, or if you lived in Great Britain,
fish and chips.

As you unwrapped
your fine print sacks, sitting at a table bare but for
peel curls, chip chips, you could, between whiffs
of orange or vinegar, peruse
an origami of ads, articles,
the snipped obits of those who some time recently
had died
and the whom they were
survived by,
phrases that kept
you company, quiet companions with interesting
while from outside,
came muted cries–
for those were also times and places
of open windows–not of anguish typically,
or not of extreme anguish–the crows of children
over rules, the hawking
of other vendors,
the banter of true bird, the
hum of machines
on the fly,

sweat nestling at the back
of your neck and inner arms, and,
if you were eating fish and chips,
probably also
your upper lip.

And, believe me, I am not in any way touting
those times –I am pretty sure
that while you were sitting there eating, some woman
in the background
was scrubbing pots, and some person of color
mopping stairs, and while there’s nothing wrong
with pots or stairs, scrubbing  and mopping,
they are not so great
as ultimate options, not to mention the fear stored in
closet shadows,
along with the broom handles, buckets, lye.

I’m just saying that newsprint seems a
helluva lot better to me
than plastic, no matter how
it’s used, and by plastic I don’t just mean
what now wraps all we buy,
but also what we see–that transfixed hair
upon the screen, the fake smiles,
smirks, the scooped pronouncements passing
as some synopsis of
the world’s long day, so much shiny
cheap, thin,
packaging, so much
to throw away.


This isn’t so much a poem as a rant.  I wrote it originally for Mary’s prompt on dVerse Poets to write about news – and am posting it on dVerse’s Open LInk Night

This is an old drawing, but seemed to fit. 

Chemical Make-up

October 26, 2014


Chemical Make-up

Let the kids curl
around Heny Swarzfigger, who could pull
a nickel from his ear,
rolling the r’s in his

He knew that magic words
ended in -ide or -ate,
even -ic (hydrochloric), – ium (potassium),
and, okay, sometimes -ur–(only sulfur
he laughed with that squashed grin
that masked the jokes no one else
ever got, was more of a

and that the shine on his brown basement
bottles, his beakers (mason jars)
and the true test tubes–three had come
with his first set and only one
had exploded–was brighter than even a coin
made out of gold (Au), though nickel (Ni)
was pretty neat stuff–good
for alloys and sea green–and he pushed up
the wire bridge of his glasses, and, for a moment,
the small round lenses were portholes
through which he could see waves
of mounded nickel compound, crystalline
aquamarine, though actually
more granulated–

and he’d been a sh–sh–shy boy
even before the TB took him so long away,
blanketing him, the only child, in a far cold place,
its windows flung open
even to snow–
it was the froth he liked especially,
that free-form fizz that sometimes whizzed
beyond prediction, a lava let loose,
that could, he knew, if he made a single
mistake, burn more
than his remaining
eyebrows, that might even
curl up the planked stairwell,
engulf the still upstairs, dissolving everything
in its place up there, the irrefutable proof
that all came down to atoms
colliding with
his mother’s firm tidiness, till the bubbling roar
pushed its way outdoors–

Oh, then, the kids would have something to see, he thought,
now squinting in the halo of bunsen burner,
the blue glow of incipient reaction.


Another draftish too-long sort of poem. This one is for Herotomost’s lovely prompt on “mah thing” when young, posted on With Real Toads.  In this case, I chose to write about my dad’s thing, chemistry  My dad was a very shy child, intensely devoted to his lab.  This may have come from being an only child, who had tuberculosis at age 7, which required him to spend two years away from home in a sanatorium.  The drawing as is the case with most on this blog is mine.  All rights reserved. 


October 25, 2014

IMG_3344 copy


“You’re hurting me,” she whimpered.
“I want to hurt you,” he said.

In the hours afterwards,
lying on a bathroom floor,
next to the clawed feet
of a large porcelain bathtub
so white it also hurt–he’d been
a pale man–
she did not understand
that it was rape,
only that she was stupid
and that she hated herself,
and, after her torso
was wrung out,
that it did not feel
like her lying there–how could that be her
on a bathroom floor?
The person lying there
also hated her stupid self, but she

was wedged in a purple corner
where ceiling
met wall,
by a crack in the molding,
where she looked down
at some person,

who might in fact
be her; certainly, the tiles that backed her arms
were cold enough.



Here’s a rather chilling draft poem.  (Please do not take it as autobiography!  Writers are imaginative people!)  It was inspired by a host of different prompts and conversations, but not really appropriate for any so not linking it.      




October 24, 2014



She called my nipple a guy, as in
let’s get this guy over here,
but so she also named
the photographic plate–
let’s try a new guy, exchanging
panes of glass, as if maybe
some smear
was the problem, and it isn’t
one’s favorite
but she was kind,
and, I don’t mind, I said,
as she turned the screws,
really, as she
tightened them,
just do what you need
to do,
wanting her to flatten every guy in this room
of just us two,
if only she would not call me back here,
give me
an all clear,
and then she told me not to breath
and I didn’t, not for a while.


All clear, thank God.   I am linking this to the Poets United Prompt, a day in the life.

Alternate last lines:
“and then she told me not to breath
and I wasn’t already.”

Thoughts?  (A part of me prefers the first as I don’t like to be ungrammatical, but I kind of like the idea of “wasn’t already.” )

The drawing above is by my dear friend, Diana Barco, who illustrated my book of poetry called “Going on Somewhere,” available on Amazon, with my other books, Nice, 1 Mississippi, and Nose Dive.  


October 22, 2014



They visit me
when my skin feasts
on yours.

It’s become a ritual,
a habitual trick of the brain; some might call it
a glitch.

It’s as if the brain
had two hands,
but endless smoke and mirrors,
and no matter how I pick the grasp
I’m sure this time is right,
I’m left with wrong,
the wrong being
that they are gone. 

Their hair looks beautiful–so much more body
than mine–lifting off a rueful forehead–
and the flowers that draped the coffin of the one
who was buried
could not be more real, the glow of the gladioli softer
than the hue of pearls,
the green baize a flat glisten veiling
the ochre of riven clay.

You hold me
close as it gets, but they close in
in an instant and I say, “please,”
and they say, “please,” and the problem
is that we each still want
to please each other;
we were that kind of people–

but all pleasure is sacrificed–our pleasure
was sacrifice–we were, you see,
mothers, daughters, wives–

and though you hold me still,
close as it gets,
still I weep for them, one of me,
who doesn’t get to have you, their you,
still holding them;
so the brain instead grasps tightly
with both hands,
though the brain doesn’t actually


Very much of a draft poem for Grapeling’s prompt on With Real Toads to write a ghost story based on a list of words. 

 (Yes, I’m not sure about the enjambement at the end or throughout.) 

Grain Change

October 21, 2014


Grain Change

A grain first measured
rain, soil, sun,
toil spent
till day was done–
the weight of growth,
a beat in the food canon.

But in the long wait
for growth,
in the way that men
turn earth,
a grain became
the measure of gunpowder,
the weight of what
makes cannon fodder,
the mass
of bullets,
and itself sows men, sows women,
their days done,
for they don’t grow–
these sons, these daughters–
no matter the toil, the soil,
the rain.


Another poem inspired by Kerry O’ Connor’s prompt  “In Other Words” on With Real Toads and also Mary’s prompt on dVerse Poets Pub about news. (I’m thinking here of all the mass graves found in rural areas of beautiful Guerrero, Mexico in a search for missing student protesters; the graves do not appear to belong to the students who are still missing.) (Though I have another poem in mind for Mary’s prompt, if I can just get it written! So may not link this one. )

A grain is in fact a measure of gunpowder and bullets.   It’s also a weight sometimes used to measure gold and diamonds, which certainly opens a bunch of poetic possibilities (!)  But I wanted to keep this poem short for a change–just couldn’t stand to go there.

I’ve changed the title of this post since first posting.

Finally, hate to be such a promoter, but if you have a moment,  do check out my new novel, Nice.PP Native Cover_4696546_Front Cover

A Grain of Sky

October 19, 2014


A Grain Of Sky

It was grey and hard as a pebble
in the back, but when they let her sit up front,
the grey turned blue and shone like everything
up there, even her father’s head as he turned
from the steering wheel–”you feeling better now?”
face moist with being human too long
in a car–

she pushed the kernal about her mouth, but gently,
like she’d prodded her first loose tooth–amazed then too
to find that the malleability of life so specifically
included her, excited somehow,
even when nudging the sore spots–

And she did feel better, perhaps because the front seat
did not in fact swerve so much,
and because a need had been noticed, noticed by
her folks–

She kept the kernal in her mouth then
for years–it had lodged there
even before she’d gotten into that car, to tell the truth–
a stupid place to carry it, she sometimes thought,
but girls’ clothes did not
have very good pockets–

and became so used to its wedge
at the side of a molar, lodged between
gum and cheek, that she could breathe, chew, swallow,
without even tasting
it,  without feeling the weight
of its expanse, except maybe upon a glance
out city glass,
when she felt a call of like-to-like
from the space above the cornices,
or on a sudden look up, walking.

Why couldn’t she just swallow it–
let the cerulean pump through her arteries,
lighten the whole dark lot?

Maybe because she only ever felt that blue groat hers
when she could run a tongue over its hull–

Or because she wanted to keep the grain whole
for further study, or, after a quick boil,
to pass it on–

Of course, more were always available–
should, at least, be available–if she could only
breathe them in–
the way you need to breath in sky
to reap its seed, lungs scything.

But she found herself able only
to take small sips,
not understanding
that you could not choke on sky,
overdose on sky, even shake loose
that grain you had already
been granted–


Here’s a prosish poem of sorts for Kerry O’Connor’s very cool prompt “In Other Words” on With Real Toads.

Computer problems all day, but fixed now!  If you have a chance, check out my new novel, Nice, which also describes kids on car trips and maybe even the search for grains of sky.  PP Native Cover_4696546_Front Cover