jillypoet: mom trying to write

Each day I wish I had invented waterproof sticky notes (for shower inspiration) or pen-friendly diapers to get down all my quirky thoughts that I am sure are relevant and publishable. And so God (actually another writer-mommy) sent me The Blog.

Monday, March 31, 2008

American Pillow Book

Things I Have Forgotten

The smell of my grandmother’s orange sweater.
The taste of homemade soup.
How it feels to have my hair split
into six sections, three on each side,
pulled tight and twisted,
pulled tight and twisted.
How to make chili relejos.
The proper temperature for heating oil.
The heat of the moment.
The fire of a foreign tongue sliding across my teeth.
The names of all the Italian soccer players
who fell in love with the girls from America,
all seven of us, pale, blond, fading
in the stale airport air.
How to travel alone.
How to memorize a three-minute jazz dance.
Where my feet belong when I am standing
in a long, long line.
When to stop listening.
Who first told me I am beautiful.
The smell of my first perfume.
The first Christmas my father didn’t buy
my mother new underwear.
The embrace of my first bra.
How it feels
to do something for the first time.


There was a wildly imaginative list poem up at This Is All Your Fault yesterday. Turns out it was based on a pillow book, a traditional, still popular Japanese form. That reminded me of a book I read when I was pregnant with my first child. It was by a young Japanese author and it was full of lists. I had great plans for my own list poems, then I had a baby, I had another, I lost some brain cells, I forgot about list poems. Boy, am I glad I remembered. They're very freeing. Very inspiring.

PS: You should buy Christine's books. They're great.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

confession Wednesday

Yes. I know it is supposed to be confession Tuesday. After teaching all day and making dinner and performing the whole bedtime routine, it would probably be very cathartic to write a confession. However, it might be way too whiny. So. On to confession #2, as that last bit can be #1.

2. My dad is in the hospital. Again. He's been to the local little hospital in my hometown about three or four times since January. Now he is in the big city hospital in Vermont for the second time since January. First it was his heart. Now they just don't know what it is. He has severe stomach pain that, this time, even three shots of morphine couldn't help. No one knows what is causing the pain.

Here's the catch. He has an anueryism near his kidney artery. It is very big and, apparently, growing bigger. He knows about it and last year decided not to have the operation which has tremendous risk. He'll be 80 this year. He has already had a brush with death 14 years ago with a burst aneuryism. Prior to that, he never even had the flu.

3. This is less a confession than a chance to think this through in the best way I know--through writing. I have never been a writer who writes about the things bothering me. At least, not directly. No sappy love poems for me. One of the hardest poems I had to write in grad school was a love poem. I turned to Rita Mae Brown to write a poem for the body builder I was dating. The first line was "This is not a love poem..." Something about orange juice and baked circles of sweet potatoes. I ended up breaking up with him because "he didn't get me..." He was the only man ever to promise me that if we got married I would never have to work. I could focus on my art. Gee whiz. Glad I passed that up. He was probaly the only one who ever did get me.

4. Ah...the confession serum is working! Now I see a distinct parallel between my father and the guys I've dated. Not that that is news. That's old news, in fact. But what a great poem it would make, if I could ruminate on my father's mortality and the mistakes I've made with men. Of course, that teeters into confessional poetry which I am not a fan of. I like Sharon Olds, but I don't feel like that is my niche.

5. Confessional poetry seems too needy. Yet, I read poets like Olds to see how they do it and not look needy or whiny. Even in college I could not stand the poems other students wrote that echoed with a resounding..."Why me?" Maybe because during the two times my mother had cancer she said, "Not why me? Why not me?"

5 1/2. None of this is about me. Not really. It is all about my father. I'm fine. I'm healthy.

6. What my father has is a time bomb inside him, but none of us can get a clear look at the steadily flashing red numbers.

7. I have always assumed I will get breast cancer because my mother had it and my aunts had it. I have always assumed I would handle it with grace and dignity, without fear, because my mother did. I've only had one mammogram. I'm due for this year's. I wonder just how truly brave I will be?

8. Thinking about death and mortality and funerals makes me slightly paranoid. Superstitious. As though if I think it, I will bring it on. My father is the oldest fireman, longest acting member, in our town. 60-some years as a fireman, firechief, fire commisioner, fire police. The current chief, a relatively young man, just died suddenly a few months ago. My father said it was the biggest funeral he had ever seen. Fire companies from all over the state, a processional on the old truck through the town and back again. I know he was also privately wondering if he would have one so grand. So was I. What must it be like to imagine your own funeral?

9. Even as I write all this, knowing perfectly well that the stuff of real life is the stuff of real writing, I feel bad. This kind of writing is diary writing. Am I an academic snob, or am I afraid to share my feelings? And now that they're out there, what do I do with them? They won't change the outcome of my father's condition. I wonder what might happen if I print it out and try to write? Of course, I'll need a quiet moment. Well there. No worries. I won't have to write a poem about this anytime soon! Of course, today will be the day my daughter takes a good long nap. Gotta face the demons sometime, I guess. Maybe my muse will be on vacation...

*** post-confession update: My mom just called from the hospital. He has pnumonia, again. They're sending him home with antibiotics. Still no clear idea about the pain. Surgery talk tabled until lungs are clear. Anueryism still there, ticking away... You see, now that the current "drama" has ebbed away, I feel silly for thinking such morose thoughts.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spinning the Dog

Like wool, softer than Alpaca,
they can not put their dog away.
They wear him as a sweater,
wrap themselves in their white Samoyed
like a down comforter.
Clean, pressed handkerchiefs
are held at the ready as they shear
their passed pet, pull tender tufts
as from a sheep, spooling great balls
of creamy hair. Tears must be wiped,
the salt will stiffen the fur.
If you knew how to cast on,
cast off, thread the tail
through a yarn needle,
pull tightly through all remaining stitches,
weave in all ends,
would you lay your dog to rest
or put him on your head,
an easy roll-brim hat?


I wrote this immediately after hearing a story on the radio about a couple who used the fur of their dead dog for sweaters. I was in the middle of writing the current free-for-all prompt for poem. Stop on by and read our prompt, join in if you like. I don't think this qualifies as a putting away poem, in that I did not put away my dog into a sweater, but still, I am pleased to have written a poem in the moment!

It feels a little rough. Please feel free to pass on comment & critique on how to tighten it up. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mother as Oak Tree

For God’s sake hold your arms out straight.
They’ll cut you for your curves,
saw you down to the quick
at the slightest bend or hint of weakness.
Heaven forbid you appear broken.
Hold them up to Jesus, child,
even the smallest, barren branch.
Hold it together, hold it together.
Do not let your skin fall off.
Lepers don’t fare well in this society.
They will want to feel your bark,
caress your crags and crevices.
Stand a bit straighter
when they hug you.
These are the people
who will fight
to leave you
here for eternity.
And here, I will whisper,
so lean in close,
this could be the adventure
of a lifetime.
Push your roots.
Push them right up out of the ground.
Do not be afraid of where you grew from.
Trip them up,
a little. Stretch. Beat the earth
at her own game. When they stumble
on your gorgeous lines
it will stop the people in their tracks.
No one will ever ask to see your rings.


I've never done this with a poem, but this was bugging me. Which way do these lines read better? The present way, or this (which happens to be the original...I just edited the above version). Thanks for your help!

when they hug you. These are the people
who will fight to leave
you here for eternity.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Eating My Words, or: What's On the Menu In Suburbia Tonight

Chewing glass shreds my tongue
and I keep swallowing.
Ice trails the shards of iridescent
anger all the way down
shining red morsels
lodge in my stomach.
I can never take those words back.
you clean the toilet.
Eat them,
why don’t you.


I'm not one for short poems, but I needed to write. I wonder if I should play with this, play with food images, word metaphors?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Write about stealing something

It's Wednesday, the day after confession Tuesday. It's no confession that I didn't confess yesterday. Still, I like the list-making, write from the top style of confession Tuesday, so here I go. Oh, with a little help from A Writer's Book of Days. How appropriate that today's prompt is write about stealing something! Not that I have stolen anything.

1. I saw some girls in the Dollar Store trying to shoplift. The items were not important, they were toys, I think, and these girls were teenagers. They brought me back to my own foolish teenage years, doing the same thing in Ames with the mill manager's daughter. My best friend in 9th grade was one of the richest girls in the small mill town I grew up in. Neither of us needed to steal. We just liked the thrill of doing it. Shame on us in our blue eyeshadow and jean jackets. The gold hoop earrings turned our ears green. The thrill of getting away with something set us on fire.

2. I stood at the end of the Dollar Store aisle while my daughter looked at dolls and watched the teenage girls. I let them see me watching them. So foreboding amI with my blond bob and flowered scarf that they ran off. They came back and I was still there, staring. What is with me? Who do i think I am? Sheriff of Dollar Tree?

3. I'm pretty sure if I saw someone committing a real crime, like, say, beating up someone, I would call the police. I really don't like all the 20/20 shows or reality shows about people behaving badly, the premise being, "What would you do?" However, it does pose an interesting question. What would you do if... Great poem prompt!

4. I am studiously avoiding my new book, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder at Home. I read that it is a severe disorder that will affect him the rest of his life. It is a result of damage to white matter. Who damaged his white matter? Was it me? Or is it gray matter? Maybe that's why I don't want my husband to buy me a new Pathfinder that is gray.

5. It could be worse. It could always be worse.

6. When I was lying in the hospital room after I had my son, I saw Jesus. The room was dim. My husband and my mom had just left, the baby was in the nursery, and I was a little afraid to be alone. I looked up and Jesus was standing at the foot of my bed and he made me feel less afraid. Now, I am not a "religious" person. I have never seen Elvis. Although I did see Brian Setzer from the Stray Cats once, playing his bass on a random street corner in La Jolla once. And I did get a stuffed bear from Charlie Daniels at a country fair once. I wish I could see Jesus again, just to ask him for the real story. I feel so lost lately. I'm sure he could help me with that. And I wouldn't have to pay him.

7. It's Easter time, so our church is showing clips of The Passion. I can watch Jesus do miracles, even though lepers are gross. I can not watch the crucifixtion, the whipping, the dragging of the cross on his shoulders, the hanging there. Can't do it. I've never seen that movie, the one everyone saw and everyone debated about. I hate cruelty.

8. Looking out my window, the two green plastic swing seats on the swing set are moving. I wonder who was sitting there?

9. This feels pretty melancholy. Let me liven it up. Let's talk Spongebob. I never thought he was so bad for my kids. Until the other day. I had just put braids in my daughter's hair. Everyone says she looks just like me. When I was two, I had braids. She looked adorable. We were peeling carrots in the kitchen, listening to the Dixie Chicks. "Let's rock this clubhouse!," she yelled. How cute, I thought! Then she spun on her heel, threw a glance over her shoulder, said, "I'll kick your butt tomorrow," and sauntered out of the kitchen. Thank you Spongebob. Anyone seen the Flats the Flounder episode?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Give Me a Moon Story

It is true, I once danced naked
under a full moon. I would never
breathe a word of this tale
to my children. I danced,
I might say,
swinging my hips mightily.
I have seen the moon,
I might say, lifting myself
onto the balls of my bare feet,
reaching far above my head,
until my modest
mother-blouse reveals midriff,
until I can pluck
the pulsing white button
right out of the sky for them.
I was naked
when I was born
I will admit.
You were naked.
Someone is naked right now.
On the other side of the world
the moon is full right now.
Why don’t we dance?


I wrote. Finally. After a horrible hiatus, wherein I couldn't imagine why I wasn't writing, I wrote. I opened my notebook and discovered the last entry was notes from an appointment with a kind doctor who told us our son has a non-verbal learning disability. This is a serious, lifelong disability that affects all areas of his life. I guess that news kept me from writing. I have much to learn about this disability. I don't even like typing the word. Bah!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Who's There?

In winter you do not hear voices.
You can not hear anyone
as clearly
as crisp
as in the brilliant dark of summer,
when stranger's conversations amble
past your front yard,
saunter through any open bedroom window.
Snow and ice muffle sound.
Prayers blow on wind gusts.
Wishes for warm beds, dry gloves, drift
up to your shuttered sills, ride on.
In winter you do not hear voices
but in the cool white silence
you may sense soft murmurs,
strangled sighs,
Then you know
you are in the presence of angels.