Sunday, March 7, 2021

Morning Sounds

Roofers ride their ship of shingles
through the ocean of day.
Rock music and radio ads cut their way
at the prow, as a chorus of hammers
shimmers in their wake.

Old tiles crash off the sides.
A reversing truck alights with an exhale
of brakes. The sun is a tyrant.
The breeze, when it rises
is a sip of fresh water.

I wrote this poem-sketch last summer, while sitting in my yard and listening to roofers work on a house nearby. Aware of how comfortable I was in that moment compared to them, I thought about how loud music like what they were playing can be helpful when you’re doing something that, no matter what, just has to get done. Seeing them walk along the roofline reminded me for some reason of the boat-shaped play structure my childhood friend’s grandfather built for us a long time ago. I wasn’t close enough to take a picture, so here’s a stock image of a boat’s wake instead. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Five Roses

Five roses in a jar
On the kitchen table
Layers of petals
Skirts and frills
Make shadows
Like folds of flesh

Four of them are
Antique white
Like an old 
Wedding dress
Tinged with
The gray-pink
Of silver polish

The fifth is paler
More ivory than blush
The color
Of old paper &
Instead of round

What is written
In the cells
Of these blooms
Whose blood
Is on their thorns

The eye is drawn
To difference
It calls everything
Into question

Since we're spending so much time at home these days due to Covid, I've been putting extra effort into making it a nice place, including buying flowers for the kitchen table every week. And it's important to remember the people who grew, picked, and packaged them. 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Eggshell Poem

Each egg is a gift
Pushed out with pain
And squawking

I dress them up
With salt and cheese
Savor each soft bite

The shells are red, tan
Coral, cream
Even blue

Together, they pass
The life they might have had
To me

A little detour
On their way
To something new 

I get these chicken eggs at Big E's supermarket in Easthampton, MA. They're from Cold Spring Ranch in Southampton, MA and a sticker on the carton calls them "happy hillbilly eggs." They're delicious and, as you can see, beautiful. The different colors remind me that each one came from an individual. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Starting the Sealey Challenge

Reading poetry is something I love and have done for decades, but sometimes it still intimidates me, either because I’m in awe of the poet’s skill or I’m frightened by the depths of emotions the words take me to. 

That’s why I loved discovering #theSealeychallenge last year and why I’m doing it again this year. Reading a poetry book a day for a month (or 100 pages a day, or however close I could come to that) was so freeing! At first I approached it like a task to do well, but I soon realized the only way I could do it was to let go of how I normally read (slowly, carefully, thoughtfully) and just go for it. Let the words flow over my eyeballs, my brain, my heart. Devour the words like popcorn, instead of eating them gingerly like petites fours.

I discovered some poets whose work amazed and excited me. I slogged through some who just didn’t do it for me. But the best gift I got from the experience was gorging on words, trusting that they were changing me even as I let them go, like racing down a highway with the windows open, poems written all over the land.

My bookshelf, ready to go!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020


Spring for me
Is autumn for them
With their seed-hair
Bright as grandma’s halo
Then naked as a man
With no teeth
They say
Our work here is done
But you must keep on
Keep on
Don’t fight the wind
Use it

I wrote this poem-sketch while sitting outside in early spring, one of those days when warmth feels new and precious. Each being is on its own schedule, all of us overlapping and interlocking like a great tapestry of life and death. One of my grandmothers had a head of white, curly hair that shone like a halo when she visited me in a dream.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Sunlight Poem

Today I slept late
And missed the newborn day
With its soft innocence
Its basket of knitted possibilities

The warm light of the sun
The bright light of the sun
The harsh light of the sun
Exposes a beetle on a leaf of grass
Sharpens each blade into a knife
Silences the flowers

It started before Eve
Was framed, exiled beyond
The first of many walls

Let there be light
Meant let there be
Have and have nots

No one talks now
but trucks and sparrows

This poem started as notes that I jotted down while drinking my tea outside one morning in the middle of May. I had slept later than I normally do, and I noticed how much stronger the sunlight was, plus how much quieter were the local animals. Instead of peaceful and warm, sitting in the sun at that point was unpleasant and hot! The experience reminded me of this little poem by Valerie Worth and also got me thinking about how power and goodness are relative and contextual. (The link to Worth’s poem is from a tribute in No Water River.) The image shows the fence shadow I was looking at. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The One Faithful Good Thing: A Thank-You to Black Poets

The title of this post is part of a quote from Lucille Clifton that, as you can see in the picture of this well-loved sheet of paper, I tore from a daily poetry calendar who knows how many years ago. I’ve come and gone from poetry reading and writing as life’s challenges have ebbed and flowed, but the point is that I always come back — it’s always there for me, thanks to all the other poets in the world who dip in and out of the well, collectively creating our shared and complex heritage.

About a month ago, after a long dry spell, I restarted my writing practice by creating what I’m calling poem sketches — they begin as notes on my phone, often while I’m drinking my morning tea. I was inspired by my artist friend Lauren Kindle, who shares her sketches in blog posts as well as more crafted works of art in her online store. I’ve been trained to recognize Poetry (with a capital P) as being necessarily labored over, but I wanted to give myself permission to play and share less polished things, too. Because why not? Life is short and all that.

In the current moment, when I and many of my fellow well-meaning white folks have awoken or re-awoken to the need to, as Bryan Stevenson says, “reckon with our history of racial injustice,” I don’t feel right simply launching into another period of posting and sharing my words on this blog without first acknowledging the work of writers of color, particularly black American writers, whose words have instructed and inspired me to become more awake, aware, and active.

Here are four Black poets whose work has affected me in the past year:

Something I’m learning that making art and fighting racism in society and ourselves have in common is that all of these efforts can be thwarted by perfectionism. Too often, I’m hesitant to share creations I view as somewhat flawed or to say things I’m not 100% confident about, for fear of — gasp! — making a mistake. Going forward, my aim is to fear mistakes a little less (my own as well as my culture’s) and to learn from them how to do better. Being unconscious of my white privilege is one of those past mistakes. One action step I’ve taken is to use race and ethnicity as part of the criteria for choosing the books we read in a discussion group that I lead, alternating white authors and people of color.

Remember, if you read or hear a poem that you like by a poet who’s new to you, that’s a great reason to get a book of theirs and see what else they have to say. There are many ways to fight racism and educate ourselves, including reading literature (poetry or otherwise) written by black Americans — preferably procured from your local public library or independent book store. You can also check out this list of black-owned bookstores.

While trying to find a citation for the pictured quote from Lucille Clifton (which I haven’t managed to find yet), I came across one of her poems called my dream about being white. In it she says “there’s no future / in those clothes,” implying that there’s no future in the so-called privilege of “wearing / white history.” What I take from those lines is that there’s no good future based on an unacknowledged and unhealed past of white dominance — hopefully, with awareness and action, we can make a better future together.