NaPoWriMo, Day 23 or Whatever (Day 30/30 for Everyone Else)

Today’s poem is, once again, from Rachel McKibbens’s treasury of fantastic writing exercises, this time #67. Rachel, thank you–you are saving my life over here!


Finally there is room in one town
for two gunslingers.

The governess fends off her master
and marries the mad lady locked away.

The dislikable climber deranged by speed and testosterone
is brought to safety.

The dying mother confesses she annealed her son’s heart
to prevent him from probing the cracks in her own,
and she lives.

The warrior wins his battle and
both of his loves.

The ship docks with its crystal intact
and everyone disembarks ahead of the hurricane.

The silver cloud shaped like a fish
tears a piece off its back to feed to the wind.

* * * * * * * *

Thanks for reading, dear Readers. Please stay tuned for a recap of NaPoWriMo in a day or two!

NaPoWriMo, Day 21.8 (Day 29 for Everyone Else)

This poem is based on Rachel McKibbens’s intriguing exercise #75.


It was during Nixon that Dad peached away
commercial-size cans of chili
and during Ford that he silvered down coffee cans
full of the heavy, quiet coins.

Dad lectured us over dinners
how to barter them when the crash came,
forbade us ever to tell of these commodities
waiting patient as spiders in our secret crawlspace.

He said the crisis would pit every family
against every other, and when the worst
happened to him–as it would someday anyway–
we were to defend our coins and canned goods

with our own little lives, since on those goods
our lives would depend.

So I thought to supplement with my own
secret stash, since I didn’t know just how deep that pitting
might dig. But when I went to gather up my trust, my safety,
my faith that anyone would think to take care of me,

I found they’d already been stolen. Instead I gathered crackers
and baggies of salted sunflower seeds, and summered
my third-grade year high in our backyard willow.
From there, I commanded a view of neighbors’ houses

and warned away my old friend Tracie. My little brother, too,
unable to climb as high, was consigned to the chaos and Commies.
I missed our German Shepherd, so I built a harness and pulley
to haul King up to the broad branch

where I camped. I winched up kibble for him, too,
and did not mind the magpies swooping for it.

Through the summer, I became a rough-barked dictator
sticky with willow sap and independence
on my leafy island. I controlled my own economy
and the comings and goings of a sizeable dog.

In the silent, often-anxious hours
between magpies yelling me their anthems
and ants bearing tribute of shiny beetle shells,
I pondered the twinned rivalry

between power and vulnerability
and concluded I wanted neither.
Yet I keep that summer socked away still
among the webs of memory

in case, in a crisis, I am forced
to defend it.

NaPoWriMo, Day 21 or so (Day 29 for Everyone Else)

Gaahh! Falling (even more) behind. I hope to catch up to Day 22 tonight so I can be current (for me) going into the final day tomorrow.

This poem is a combined response to Maureen Thorson’s prompt from yesterday, “space,”and from Day 21, “hay(na)ku,” or 1-2-3 form.

[I’m taking suggestions for a title again!]

gray-blue day:

Lummi Island,
water-color clouds.

ceases, sky
beckons me out.

space expands:
big-leaf maples

their wide
green-fingered hands.

NaPoWriMo, Day 20 (Day 27 for Everyone Else): A Bit of Levity after Elegy Day

Hello! Today’s poem is prompted by Rachel McKibbens’s Writing Exercise #81 from April 24: “Write a big juicy mythology of someone.”  Ahem:


When The Adonis walks to the Reference Desk
the fingers of the intern flutter to her neck.
Like the fly suddenly prostrate on the sill,
she cannot even pretend to look busy.

He is Apollo gliding into Circulation,
where the bar-code scanners beep faster
and the Christmas cactus on the counter
shudders instantly into bloom.

When he whisks upstairs to Special Collections,
one archivist looks up, drops his pencil;
the other blinks while her ovaries clench.

The mothers down in Children’s wish
he would just go all Zeus on them.
When he enters, the children flock:
Daddy, Daddy, book me next!

NaPoWriMo, Day 19 (Day 26 for Everyone Else)

Today’s poem responds to Maureen Thorson’s “elegy” prompt. I’m grateful that her prompt put a purpose to this poem, which I started over three years ago in a workshop (led by the fabulous Nance Van Winckel) but hadn’t been able to finish satisfactorily. That’s because I didn’t know then that the poem was trying to be an elegy.


Ten years old in a mowed oat field,
I plodded through stubble beside
my much-taller father. His shadow

covered me like a low roof,
his black-oak shotgun slung between us
in the crook of his left arm.

My own shadow bulged heavy
with three dead pheasants in the canvas sack
strapped across my shoulder.

The first two hens had died from the birdshot.
The third was live and flapping
when our retriever brought her back.

My father, who had seen me cry
over the death of my pet guinea pig
and decided I needed toughening,

seized the moment to teach me neck-wringing
and made me use my own hands.
He’d always despised my vulnerability as a girl,

tried often to thicken my skin with ridicule
to protect me from greater hurt.
Tried, that day, to toughen me past grieving

by putting the feathered neck between my fists
and making me twist it down to strings.
What he achieved was to make me face

a different loss, begin my grieving
of something I never have succeeded
in bringing back to life.

NaPoWriMo Day 18 (Day 25 for Everyone Else)

This poem has been simmering for a couple of weeks now, ever since I used the persona-poem prompt to write about Abraham. Today, seeing a magnificent poem in the voice of Hagar, by Catherine Pritchard Childress at Vince Gotera’s blog, sent me back to work on the new poem, this time from Sarah’s point of view:


Some time later I tested Abraham
by bidding him to lie with my servant-woman, Hagar.
It had been many years since The Speaking
granting us a land for our descendants–
and my husband was feeling keenly his dearth
of descendants. I suspected that his trust
in The Speaker was growing shaky (imperceptibly
to all but me), like both of our wrinkling hands.

I myself had never doubted
that the promised child was far off.
I knew that for a time, The Speaker was just keeping
His word to Himself. And often,
in the hot afternoons when the tent grew quiet
and the livestock slept, faintly I could hear
the approaching child’s laughter fluttering
around my body like a gossamer cloak.

Besides, I remembered clearly
my own Speaking vision, given when my father
gave me in marriage to his brother:
I half heard, half saw, fully knew my husband’s destiny
would be to try to carve a blade into our future son’s lean neck
the way his own father had sliced and gouged
temple idols out of oak. In this way I knew
my husband, in consenting to turn upon our son,
would turn away from me and from every deity of trees.

Thus at Mamre, it was not just my laughter
but my own cracking bark I heard
upon the visitors’ Speech announcing
our next-year baby. That, and the chopping fall
of all the oak Asherah poles outside His future temples–
and my betrayal by a Deity without roots.

NaPoWriMo, Day 17 (Day 24 for Everyone Else)

First of all, my sincere thanks to Vince Gotera, who featured this blog and my poem from yesterday on his wonderful poetry blog, The Man with the Blue Guitar. His write-up of my efforts here is the funniest thing I’ve read all month. I’m tremendously grateful to Vince for his generous feature.

For today’s poem, I followed a complicated prompt. My workshop group, a lively cadre of Bellingham poets calling ourselves On Assignment, tasked ourselves to write a poem incorporating the following words or concepts: maps / getting lost, stochastic, lightning, and diacritical marks. Crazy, right? Here’s what I came up with:


You taught parachuting
and rode a seal-bay racehorse named Éclat
across Cascade passes.

You said you loved the sky,
its ecstasies where it met the earth.

You said one time, Éclat’s steel shoe
scraped a rock and sparked a fire.
You stomped it out but Éclat took flight.

You both knew ways back to Mazama
and met there by nightfall.

Later that summer your skydiving partner
mispacked his chute and jumped off the map.
Éclat sliced a tendon on a downed electric fence.

You moved to Las Vegas,
took up day-trading with a man
you suspected had murdered his wife.

You called me once, told me you’d got rich,
laughed that this kind of success
was stochastic as lightning.

Years later, I still glimpse Éclat from the freeway
grazing with the other retirees
in the tree farm on the floodplain of the Snohomish.

And I picture you pacing somewhere
in a darkened apartment in an opulent city
glancing out the windows

to check on the clouds, tightening
the screws on all the switchplates
and waiting for something dangerous,

something dazzling, to strike.

NaPoWriMo Day 16 (Day 23 for Everybody Else)

Today’s poem is loosely–very loosely–inspired by Maureen Thorson’s Earth Day prompt to write about a plant.


On spring’s first short-sleeve day
I cannot escape

Grainy music seeding itself
through open-window stereos

Twenty-two high-pitched children
revving their joy

Mowers and leaf-blowers
and pressure-washers without number

Even the wind chimes
are barking and barking

I can hardly hear the chickadees
screaming Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger!

I seek and find silence
in the alder leaves’

New Alder Leaves

New Alder Leaves

NaPoWriMo, Day 15 (Day 22 for Everyone Else)

Today’s poem is in response to a hugely fun prompt by Rachel McKibbens. Her detailed exercise yields the sort of non-sequiturs that stretch even the associative logic of poetry:


Why do you think your feet aren’t listening to you?
Playing shuffleboard on the deck of the Great Beyond.
Why was that forest not enough for me?
Spider, mistress, aesthetic missteps.
How come the President didn’t uncause that fire?
A brain the size of Texas, like Anne Carson’s.
What language of restaurant will this be?
The Beegees, Peter and the Wolf, The Chipmunks’ Disney Classics.
Mommy, do I have a backpack? Why does this Lowes have five signs? What’s “pressure”?
The smile of Julia Roberts.
Why is Grandpa unhappy at me?
Trail of breadcrumbs, what big teeth, magic beans.
Silly Mommy, if you’re sad Zonker’s going to die,
why don’t you just get another kitty that’s orange and white?
Bendy straws, rainbow pipe cleaners, torn trampoline leaning against the wall. 

* * * * * * * *

Yes, he’s a weird (and extremely observant) kid. This poem makes his mom sound even weirder! Thanks, dear Readers, for reading.

NaPoWriMo, Day 14 (Day 21 for Everybody Else)

Today’s poem is for Australian artist Arna Baartz. Her blog is Silverpoetry, and while I was visiting, I got curious about her gorgeous artwork there. So I clicked over to her art website, which features her colorful and complex paintings. Please do visit Arna Baartz; she’ll even give you a cupcake!

Arna told me in a comment that one of her paintings was part of a series about the question, “What would fall out, if the heart were a pocket and we were each turned upside down?” Reader, this got me thinking:


Turn the pocket of my heart upside down,
and out will trot the buckskin horse
who raised me to middle age
before going the way of all grandfathers

Turn the pocket of my heart inside out,
and watch the tumble of my tabbies and torties
and my gone firstborn, an Abby

Upend my heart and pour out the woman
who hid away so many parts of herself
for safekeeping, she forgets where they are
except when her grandbaby trips over them

The feather-shaped leaves and all their siblings
The trails I’ve hiked, and those I haven’t
Dried ink and some still wet

The Voice who once told me to be his child
and then went mostly silent

Dump out my heart and meet the kind-souled stranger
I’ve been married to for twenty-one years
who tells me I say the strangest things

The miniature of him, who agrees
but also suspects this is all quite normal