Thursday, August 16, 2012

One Thousand Gifts

Thanks to the poets at Tweetspeak Poetry and Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, I've developed a full-blown obsession with bookspine poetry.  Bookspine Poetry is like crossword puzzles for poets - you make words fit in the appropriate spaces - the only difference is that the words all have to make sense when they come together. At Tweetspeak this month, the challenge is to write a poem with the theme of rain and water using the titles on your bookshelves.

This poem is inspired by Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Voskamp encourages us to see the holy in all things, to find freedom through gratitude in the small things.

the night I fell from the sky,
the dog star shone on a
temple of trees; dovekeepers,
they came from a lineage of grace.

where the red fern grows,
wild apples lay on leaves of grass;
a deer hears rumors of water,
and follows the stone crossings home.

over the sounds and silences,
the last coyote calls the 
song of the blood orange moons
to the princes of the Milky Way~

the Good Earth is a holy mount,
where every bush is burning.
it is a moveable feast of
bread and ashes,
the thistle and the rose,
and dawns mistaken for dusk.

the night I fell from the sky,
the dog star shone on a
temple of trees; dovekeepers,
they came from a lineage of grace.

as I lay dying beneath 
a blossom rain, 
tender is the night.

from across the ancient waters
comes the weight of glory
and the allure of hope,
necessary endings
and final beginnings.

Grand Weaver,
whisper my name,
of you my heart has spoken.

One Thousand Gifts (Ann Voskamp) The Night I Fell  from the Sky (me); The Dog Star (Peter Heller); A Temple of Trees (Suzanne Hudson MacAdam); A Lineage of Grace (Francine Rivers);Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls); Wild Apples (Henry David Thoreau); Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman); Rumors of Water (L.L. Barkat); Stone Crossings (L.L. Barkat); The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd); An Elegant Gathering of White Snows (Kris Radish); The Sounds and Silences (Poetry Anthology by Richard Peck); The Last Coyote (Michael Connelly); The Song of the Orange Moons (Lori Ann Stephens); Princes of the Milky Way (me); The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck); Every Bush is Burning (Joan Puls); A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemingway); The Thistle and the Rose (Jean Plaidy); The Dawn Mistaken for Dusk (Leonard Sweet); As I lay Dying (William Faulkner); Beneath Blossom Rain (Kevin Grange); Tender is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald); From Across the Ancient Waters (Michael Phillips); The Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis); The Allure of Hope (Jan Meyers, John Eldredge); Necessary Endings (Henry Cloud); Final Beginnings (John Edward); Grand Weaver (Ravi Zacharias); Whisper My Name (Jane Eagland ); Of You my Heart has Spoken (J. Peter Sartain)

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Farewell to Arms

This is another bit of "bookspine poetry," a writing game in which you borrow titles from your bookshelf and cobble them together to make a poem. If you make minor modifications to the titles or add words for transition (as I have in a few places) it's considered a 'found poem.' The possibilities are endless in this type of exercise -- stories materialize before your eyes as you peruse your books. 

The folks at Tweetspeak Poetry and Every Day Poems provide an endless stream of prompts to inspire the writer in you. This month the theme is rain and water at and the challenge is to write a bookspine poem in keeping with the theme.

As to the subject of my poem, I could have called it "The Art of Diplomacy," or the "Importance of Being Earnest," two phrases I fear are foreign to too many of us in this hour. The culture war that played out over chicken this summer left me with heartburn. As I look ahead to three months of mud and politics I may just turn off the TV.

I am reminded of Gail Hawthorn from The Hunger Games who says to the heroine, Katniss, "What if no one watched?" 

Indeed. What if all of us decided not to watch? What if we elected to vote but not to play in the theater of politics? What if politicians were required to write a three page summary of their positions on issues and the only coverage news outlets could provide was a copy of that summary? What if you couldn't get a driver's license unless you voted and you couldn't vote until you passed a test to ensure you understood the candidates' views?

More importantly, what if we fought FOR our ideas and ideals and not AGAINST the people we disagree with? What might happen if love broke out and we convinced the people on the other side of the aisle or ideological spectrum that even if we disagree, we're on the same team?

What will happen if we don't?

In our time, night falls 
on the customs of our country, 
on the life of the Beloved, and 
the story of the world repeats.

Down these mean streets,
reputations are blood sport, and
 the lovely bones of lovingkindness 
litter the killing fields.

In this kind of war, 
wounded healers pray for 'all is grace,' 
 and the courage to be a different drum;
good soldiers fight the zero game.

How now shall we live?

As bees in honey drown,
should we drown in feathered sleep, 
dreaming of water, our memories of water,
while Rome burns?

Should we eat, pray, love
the good life, the taste of bread?
Should we mark this book of hours
another year of magical thinking?

Dreamer beware, when water burns
how late it is, how idle are
the people of the lie -- they are 
the beautiful and the damned.

Heaven waits for us 
to wake our slumbering spirits and 
see the fault in our stars, 
to feed our better angels, and
starve the hungry stones.

In our time, the sun also rises for those
who practice the presence of God,
but move beyond opinion
to begin the pilgrimage to compassion.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bookspine Poetry

The folks at Tweetspeak Poetry and Brainpickings issued a challenge to create poems using titles from your bookshelf . The exercise had me scouring my shelves and then the library when my selections fell short . Given how much thought goes into choosing a phrase that summarizes an entire book , titles provide a glorious resevoir of words . It's more difficult to find titles with verbs .

Much to my surprise , I found that a cohesive poem could be made from an author salad that mixed Dickens , Poe , Wharton and C.S. Lewis with newbies like James Patterson , Wally Lamb and James Frey. It was a delight to make room for one of my favorite current authors , Leonard Sweet . His title , Strong in the Broken Places , could be a life motto (or might read well on a tombstone , hmm , I'll ponder that) . Thanks, Tweetspeak! I haven't had this much fun in a long time.

A Grief Observed

bleak house born of silence
the age of innocence
a heart of darkness
  spectacular sins
    a plague of secrets

now you see her
a descent into the maelstrom
avowals and denials
  she's come undone
    a million little pieces

now you see her
up from the blue
choosing to see
  a distant memory
    the wolf at the door

now you see her
bring up the bodies
salvage the bones
strong in the broken places
fly away home

Title authors:

C.S. Lewis

Charles Dickens/Sherrilyn Kenyon
Edith Wharton
Joseph Conrad
John Piper
John Lescroat

James Patterson
Edgar Allen Poe
G. K. Chesterton
Wally Lamb
James Frey

James Patterson
Susan Henderson
Marybeth Chapman
Traci Depree
Jack Higgins

James Patterson
Hilary Mantel
Jesmyn Ward
Leonard Sweet
Jennifer Weiner

Friday, June 8, 2012


She is bent now
like a tree that leans
paying homage to the earth.

She spins yarns of days
on Colorado plains.
She rode fierce on a horse
putting cattle in their place.

She loved a preacher
in a time when a woman,
stood by her man
like a dress in the door.

She was the stronger,
of that he was sure
and we, too.

She doesn't say 
but we know she is ready. 
Her body betrays her, 
and hurts.

She'll leave us adrift
and we'll wonder
if there's life
beyond the leaning tree.
Tree photo by Luke Andrew Scowen Creative Commons via flickr

"She" was my grandmother, a towering tree till she died.

In response to an Every Day Poems prompt to write a poem using
the phrase "beyond the leaning tree"

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Gravity of Redemption

I'm a firm believer that the Event in the garden back in the beginning could've ended another way. That the dice weren't loaded in the Snake's direction. But the girl eats the apple and Eden is lost. 

From where we sit, it looks like the Snake wins. We are bent, we are fractured, we are crushed in this life. But Love finds a way.

in the place where light began
the Event was not inevitable
horizon was birth,
not a final death 

a black hole bends all light
around an event horizon
a final luminous ellipse
mocks all light and life

gravity crushes
and swallows whole
angles of radiance
from infinite distances
on the other side of darkness
the un-real faces Real
darkness cannot extinguish the light
and Love will not be mocked

Love bends the light
and gathers strands
fractured by the
weight of us

all that has gone before
all traces of the former
are crushed and
swallowed whole

variegated threads
of shimmering light
converge into a brilliant

angels of radiance 
from infinite distances
are redeemed

Thursday, May 31, 2012


The Kattegat is a sea to the west of Sweden. It is north enough that the water never warms. In the long days of summer the sun sets well after eleven. The sea lights with plankton as you move through the water. 

There are hundreds of tiny islands dotting the Kattegat. In 2002, Mike and I stayed in a farmhouse with no electricity on a biscuit private isle. The Swedes are made of sterner stuff - each island has a dock with a sauna. It is customary to heat the sauna to temperatures just shy of surface-of- the-sun hot. At which point you'll do anything to escape the burn, including jumping into what feels like Artic waters. And so the cycle goes...

in August we swam at midnight
with seaweed that lit the Kattegat
and caressed our undraped bodies
wet sparks winking code to the moon.

we laid out a sailor's feast
amid a cityscape of candles
and a feverish sauna 
that singed our lungs
and spurred our plunge
into the boreal sea.

we wasted need,
 radiant heat
flickers turned to fire.
we hindered dawn one golden night
on a star-drenched Swedish isle.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sea Bliss

"When I fully enter time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here"
~Ann Voskamp, author of 1000 Gifts

Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts set me on a journey (along with a few hundred thousand other people) to be thankful for the gift of every moment. I began my list of 1000 gifts on a trip to Cabo San Lucas in February. These are a few of the moments.

Pearl-skin sentries 
quell the crush 
of tidal cliffs

their red tile hats
hide shaded eyes 
in silence they stand watch

as fixed-wing gulls 
ride invisible swells 
of breezes that blow

white-lipped lapis 
onto a popsicle stick of sand 
that vanishes slow.

An elegant script
of morse code clouds 
scrolls across the sun

whose final work
a crescent curve,
settles in the sea.

Inside, a milky veil
breathes through the open door
and a daisy fan on the
ceiling above whispers
he loves me
    he loves me
       he loves me 

in a rhythmic hum.

I felt fair(ly) happy with this poem until I read writer/poet LL Barkat's "Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing." She notes how frequent(ly) writers try to channel Ann Voskamp (I could hear her laughing as I read the words). Though achieving Voskamp's voice is an exercise in futility, I fell prey to the trap nonetheless.  I revised the poem and only LL can decide if I succeeded. Mea culpa: I couldn't resist dropping an -ly or two. Who can blame me - adverbs are evil. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Value of Writing Prompts: Every Day Poems

By writing much, one learns to write well
- Robert Southey

Though I’m not new to writing, I’ve recently put a timid toe into the foreign water of poetry. Because poems are generally limited to a page, the topics and themes of a “poet” (I use the term loosely when describing myself) vary more frequently than those of a novelist/essayist. Inspiration can be difficult and thought ruts are a daily hazard.

In January I discovered a poetry site called Every Day Poems. The site encourages readers to read and write a poem every day. If you connect to EDPoems on Facebook or Twitter they offer poetry prompts - photos or phrases - to get your creative juices flowing.

Since my discovery of Every Day Poems, I’ve written poems on topics I never would have considered otherwise. A recent prompt was a photo connoting a modern day “Little Red Riding Hood.” As a result, I penned this re-telling of the familiar fable. 

What if the story you've always heard about Little Red Riding Hood wasn't the story at all? What if Little Red went to the woods, not to visit her Grandmother, but to visit a love? What if she went to the woods or vengeance sake, to settle a score with the one who stole the heart of her lover? What if there were two girls in the woods that day, and only one survived. What if there was no wolf at all?

Little Red Retold

No one knows,
but we, the trees
the truth behind the tale

of the fabled one,
with alabaster skin
and a crimson riding cloak

who went to a house,
so deep in a wood
no one should hear a scream

and there saw the girl,
not old, but a girl
who rivaled for the heart

of a woodsman who
heard the screams of the girl
and rushed to see his love

in a blood-red haze,
of life and death
and competing vacant stares.

It was a Grimm tableau,
of horror and hate
that turned into a tale

of a devious wolf
and an innocent girl
who trusted far too much.

For who could know,
but we, the trees
that only a Tell Tale Heart

wears a Scarlet cape,
with a cumbrous hood
into a dangerous wood?

Though no wolf prowled,
we heard the screams
that came from the daggered girl,

not the one with the cape
but the one who was true,
who lived in a treacherous wood

I have no illusions the poem is a masterwork, but the prompt forced me to tackle an unusual subject, which is great practice and essential to good writing.

For a scant $2.99/yr, Every Day Poems delivers sunshine to your inbox each morning and writing prompts that inspire. This small investment pays back in spades. Buy a year of Every Day Poems here:

Full Disclosure™: There may or may not be a coveted chocolate prize for those who participate in their May Theme – Spontaneity.

Monday, May 14, 2012


we lay
across warm wooden planks
your raw-honeyed voice
a basket that bears
endless days

now we are snow angels
in a field of tall grass
now we conspire with
the owl we bear
witness to

but you ride
leaving a tiny counter
piled with speckled notebooks
creamy sugar whispers call
from pages worn

*Inspired by  Kimberlee Conway Ireton's "On Inspiration"