and then we . . .

April 18, 2018 Leave a comment

And then we said, “Put ze candle beck!”
And then we had cinnamon rolls and iced tea, sitting on the pickup’s tailgate at the edge of the field
And then we rode the chairlift back up the mountain, dangling our snowshoes
And then we brought our newly-adopted cat out of the shelter, and tried to find space for her in the car packed full of our last few things
And then we agreed, “It’s an outrage!”, laughing
And then we listened to the dogs’ breath and the sled runners’ hiss, in the harshly cold moonlight
And then we took Russian nicknames, and tasted borscht
And then we learned you really should downshift on the long uphills
And then we said yet again, “We should live here!”
And then we woke early, to feed the calves from a bucket of warm formula
And then we descended the spiral staircase to the chamber of the Pattern
And then we consulted the floor whisperer
And then we sawed through the couch’s frame, and bent it to fit through the door of the basement apartment
And then we watched the weather radar’s hurricane track, just not from the same place
And then we witnessed two golden retrievers become a single roly-poly ball with eight legs, two tails, but no head
And then we put on a puppet show in the chemistry department
And then we planted three aspen trees

an autobiographical list poem, inspired by this week’s Wordgrove pre-written prompt, “And then we . . .”,  which reminded me of just a few of the many “we”s I’ve been part of.


book review: time travel in the poems of brenda shaughnessy

March 25, 2018 Leave a comment

There’s a lot that could be said about the wonderful poetry of Brenda Shaughnessy (and many have), but one aspect that stood out to me on reading three of her books is the theme of “time travel”. Not in the science-fiction sense, but the looking back over time and the conversation between generations.

I noticed this first in her 1999 book, Interior with Sudden Joy, in the intelligence and wit of the poem “You’re Not Home, It’s Probably Better”, of finally having the right thing to say, or rather, having now become the person with the right thing to say. Here’s part of it:

I am calling to wish you well. I am calling because I want to
change something I said. A year ago you asked me three questions.
I thought you were asking my birthday wishes and answered all
wrong. If you remember (if I know you you’ll pretend you don’t)
I answered:

. . .

It’s my birthday again and because I am cleverer now I can answer
you with more nerve.

(The full poem is worth reading, to see the now and before answers. The questions themselves are left for the reader to imagine.)

The theme is there again, more broadly, in her 2012 book, Our Andromeda, published when she was 42, writing to her past selves in the series of four poems “To my 23 / 24 / 25 / 38 Year Old Self”, writing not to avoid past mistakes or change things, but with compassion to share that there’s someone who does actually understand what it was like. It’s also there in the conversation between generations in the poem “Magi”. Here’s part:

If only you’d been a better mother.

How could I have been a better mother?
I would have needed a better self,
and that was a gift I never received.

So you’re saying it’s someone else’s fault?

The gift of having had a better mother myself,
my own mother having had a better mother herself.
The gift that keeps on not being given.

. . .

Well, how am I supposed to live?

I suppose you must live as if you had been
given better to begin with. Comb your hair, for instance.

And the theme becomes explicit in her 2016 book, Too Much Synth, in the very first poem, “I have a time machine”:

But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
on a rate of one second per second,
which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.
But I manage to get there, time after time, to the
next moment and to the next.
Thing is, I can’t turn it off. I keeping zipping ahead –
well, not zipping – And if I try
to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I’ll fall off into space, unconscious,
then dessicated! And I’m pretty sure I’m afraid of that.
So I stay inside.
. . .
I thought I’d find myself
an old woman by now, traveling so light in time.
But I haven’t gotten far at all.
Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I’d like;
the past is so terribly fast.

This poem is a great introduction to a book that’s a retrospective on adolescence. I take many of Brenda Shaughnessy’s poems as speaking to, about, and between women and their experiences, and it’s a privilege to listen in and learn.

And along with all that, and apart from the time travel, there’s simply a lot of delightful wordplay and humor, for example, as in “Streetlamps”:

The unplowed road is unusable
unless there’s no snow.
But in dry, warm weather,
it’s never called an unplowed road.
To call it so, when it isn’t so,
doesn’t make it so, though it is so
when it snows and there’s no plow.
It’s a no-go. Let’s stay inside.


Interior with Sudden Joy, published by Farrar Straus Giroux (1999)

Our Andromeda, published by Copper Canyon Press (2012)

So much Synth, published by Copper Canyon Press (2016)

poem: en plein air

March 21, 2018 Leave a comment

a little poem for the beginning of spring

working on an “en plein air” watercolor:
struggling to get just the right shade of gray
into the reflection of the clouds in the pond

just a smidge darker, hmm, maybe?


begin to dot (just a few at first, then more)
the surface of the water

and also to paint themselves into the picture
which is amusing for a moment

until suddenly it isn’t

but who’s counting?

March 8, 2018 Leave a comment

For much of my life, my reading interests largely were science fiction, fantasy, science non-fiction, and history. Over time I branched out, adding philosophy, eastern and western poetry, and various of the classics of western literature. I never really paid attention much to who the authors were, or their gender, or so I imagined. Several years ago though, early in the second Obama term I think, after coming across by chance books by women authors that struck me with their unique perspectives on things I thought I already knew:

it (finally!) became clear to me that I had to actively seek out a wider diversity of authors, especially women authors.

Looking back now at my reading history in Goodreads, it confirms that from about 600 books read in total, there are 442 books by 260 male authors, and only 160 books by 90 female authors. That’s a good motivator to continue seeking out different voices in reading! Zooming in to just this last year, I’ve read 16 books by women and 15 by men, so at least the trend is in a good direction.

Women authors whose books I’ve liked most over the last few years:

Emily Wilson, Simone de Beauvoir, Jane Smiley, Margaret Atwood, Brenda Shaughnessy, Charlotte Bronte, Ursula LeGuin, Kathleen Moore, Rebecca Goldstein, Jane Austen, Carrie Fisher, Adrienne Rich, Hope Jahren, Mary Oliver, Erica Dunbar, Hilary Clinton, Bell Hooks, Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Gilbert, Phyllis Rose, Edith Wharton, Ann Patchett, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Toni Morrison, Anne Lamott, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, H.D., Cheryl Strayed, Roz Chast, Kate Beaton, Lydia Davis, J.K. Rowling, Sharon Creech, Louisa Alcott, Hannah Crafts, Denise Kiernan, Margaret Chula, Edith Shiffert, Rachel Swarns, Saima Wahab, Carol Tavris, and Eileen O’Keeffe McVicker.


March 2, 2018 Leave a comment


The sun-loving puppy
sits at the open door looking out
at the back yard,
the falling rain,
and her wet toys lying in puddles.
She needs to go out at some point,
but not yet, not yet.

She looks up and asks with her eyes,
“Can I have my treat now anyway?”
“Of course” I say, close the door,
and we both go back to the couch.

inspired by this week’s Wordgrove impromptu prompt, “rain”, and you know, living with a dog in Portland in the winter :-)

If you’d like to see what the other writers made of this prompt, you can check out the weekly Wordgrove Post and Review newsletter for March 4 2018.

what did i miss?

March 1, 2018 Leave a comment

A new poem:

Deep in a mountainside forest, at one bank of a wild, snowmelt-swollen stream, there is a large boulder that shelters behind itself a calm side pool, where the roar of the nearby rapids is muted by the mass of the rock. One of last year’s fallen leaves lies on the ground at the edge of the pool, half in the water. Disturbed by a slight ripple, it falls fully onto the water and begins to drift slowly in the shallow pool’s weak current. The leaf floats around the pool, sometimes near the center but usually closer to the edge, while also spinning slowly, and it trembles slightly each time it passes near the turbulent edge of the main stream. The leaf continues to circle the pool slowly, under the dappled morning light. A few times it nearly becomes grounded again. Once, it touches another leaf lying at the edge of the pool. The two cling together only briefly, and separate before the second can be pulled into the water. Seventy nine times the leaf loops slowly around the pool, as the morning becomes afternoon. Just as the leaf  passes close to the main stream for the eightieth time, a small sudden wave pulls it out of the pool and it swiftly disappears into the rapids downstream, moments before a hiker walking up the stream-side trail passes by and glances briefly at the pool without stopping.

Or in haiku form:

quiet pool by a loud stream –
what did I miss,
just before I looked?

inspired by this week’s Wordgrove prewritten prompt: “loop” and “spring”

wordgrove revisited

February 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Way back when, I blogged about an online community of writers called Wordgrove. I was part of the group near its beginning, but over the last several years life and whatnot kept me from participating. I always enjoyed the Wordgrove events, which are informal, inviting, and very supportive, so I was inspired this week to rejoin active participation.

Each week there is a “prewritten prompt”, a theme given the previous week where each person shares the story, poem, or whatever they wrote using the prompt as a starting point. Then there is an “impromptu prompt” revealed at the event, and everyone has 15 or 20 minutes to write whatever short work is inspired by that prompt.

The prewritten prompt from last week was “credit card”, which inspired me to write this poem:

no credit card required
snow day
she finishes the home-knit
(thick warm) (for me)
sweater, just in time
for our evening
dog walk

Nancy in fact, did just recently finish knitting a sweater for me, very thick and warm, literally in the evening of one of the coldest days of the winter so far, just in time for me to wear it when we took the pups out for their the bedtime walk. :-)

At the event, inspired by this week’s impromptu prompt “tourist and winter”, I wrote two haiku:

blooming too early
as the cold rain turns to snow –
poor white daffodil


two nearly white dogs
bounding around the snowbanks –
dancing brown patches!

If you’d like to see what the other writers made of this prompt, you can check out the weekly Wordgrove newsletter: Wordgrove event Feb 22 2018.