Poem for Marie Curie

I found my inspiration for this poem — as I often do — at The Writer’s Almanac. November 7 was Marie Curie’s birthday, and the biographical details about this scientist got me thinking about women and how we are perceived.

 

for Marie Curie

 

Our notes are radioactive

scribbled in radioactive rooms

as we lived radioactive lives —

We are born — We are married — We have children — We work

somewhere else where there

is more freedom than at home —

We learn underground, in secret,

with discarded test tubes — We stir the cauldron

ourselves —

We forget we carry radioactivity in our pockets —

We discover — We inadvertently invent —We donate

our prizes —We do not need awards — the evidence

of our genius is sealed in lead-lined boxes

so no one

will touch —

be transformed

6 September 2017

Birds & Bees

“The bees are stirring — birds are on the wing”
Samuel Coleridge, “Work without Hope”

You are not a Bee
and I am not a
Bird, so why do we
say they fall in love?

Not with each other,
they don’t. They don’t eat
the same things. It’s a
mixed metaphor, at
best, at worst, it’s a
cautionary tale.
(Some birds do eat bees.)

But if we want hope
and work and a spring
like Coleridge’s
then let’s let you be
a Hummingbird and
I then will be a
Butterfly. We’ll bump
into each other
as we sip nectar
in our own backyard.

Empty Nest

This poem comes from Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems by Kristine O’Connell George. I took a photo of the poem’s painting, an empty ficus tree under a full moon, and it’s been on my phone all summer. 

 

Empty Nest

Kristine O’Connell George

 

No sign of them.

The time finally came.

My hummingbird family moved

away.

 

Tonight

the dark seems filled

with cold and cat and owl.

Pocket-sized birds, sleeping, alone,

out there.

 

This is how

it’s supposed to be.

So why do I keep watching

this empty nest in this empty tree?

 

 

23 August 2017

This is how it goes with poems.

I wanted to write something about the solar eclipse. It took a couple of days, and honestly, I’m still not sure I’m done.

First I tried to write from a Tweetspeak Poetry prompt about a flying machine from the point of view of the machine. So I wrote a series of haikus about a plane seeing the solar eclipse, thinking about my friend Laura Brown, who was flying during the eclipse. Laura’s pictures were great—my poem wasn’t. I erased the whole thing.

Then my husband sent me a map of the next solar eclipse in 2024, that will pass directly over Texas. I tried to write another series of haikus about that, mainly because I’ve never seen a national map noting both Piedras Negras and Killeen. That one didn’t do much for me either.

As I was falling asleep, I typed a single haiku into my phone.

It was not the end
of the world. Only darkness
only for a time.

I wrote it out by hand the next morning in my journal and thought about the obvious symbolism of darkness and light. About circumstances that seemed to be the end of the world, but weren’t. And then I thought about how after the temporary darkness I found the sunny side of my life and have been shining along, for the most part, until recent events conspired to block my brightness. Then I wrote a new series of haiku (with a few forays into Google, to doublecheck astronomical facts and the exact wording of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”). I still may like my single haiku best, but here ’tis.

Most days I shine — sun
set in slow orbit (by time
not speed). I let them

think I rise and fall.
But today, briefly, you crossed
me, dimmed, blocked my bright

with totality —
blunt and brusque totality —
Still I’ll rise. I rise.

 

16 August 2017

Landslide
 

Antennas pick it up, sense it first,

the slight shift in the atmosphere.

She stares into the distance. It makes no difference,

the smooth curve of grass, the design of a ditch.

Taxes are useless to stop

this landslide, the seasons of my life, those snow-covered hills.

There is no fix, no

precise design to stem the tides.

Take my love, take it down.

26 July 2017

riffing on these lines from William Wordsworth’s”Tintern Abbey,” used in a Tweetspeak Poetry prompt:

Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
(That’s Wordsworth, composed 1798)
Therefore are we still
Lovers of US Highway 83 South
And the bit near Leakey; and where it plunges
From what we thought was flat; now a flat top
Of hills and valleys,—both steep as the West
And we adjust; well pleased to recognize,
In ebb and the flow of the earth
The topography of our very soul, the geography,
The geology, the aqualogy of our heart, and mind,
Up and down, round and round, over and over and over again.
(That’s me, composed 2017, after a few trips to and from the H.E.B. Foundation camp. That aerial view in the video is what I’m attempting to describe.)

14 June 2017

(I wrote this in the Thursday morning poetry group, which has been meeting for more than 25 years, but which I only attend occasionally. The first line is something the host actually said.)

 

If the plumber shows up, just keep writing

If the birds preen and beckon, just keep writing

If the graduates graduate without pomp and circumstance, just keep writing

If the Zoom chat zags, just keep writing

If the translator takes off for Moscow, just keep writing

If the tiger escapes his tidy sanctuary, just keep writing

If the deluxe model is less than delightful, just keep writing

If the passengers pressure you to revolt, just keep writing

If the family’s attempt at vacation fails, just keep writing

And if the day is long and lonely, filled with irresponsible promises flapping like tired pied pipers,

dear Writer

you know what to do.

 

Poetry Club, day 20

(Originally, this was the beginning of The Joy of Poetry. It’s now the last day of our poetry club.)

 

On New Year’s Eve, I was feeling down. Okay, that’s a lie. I was in utter despair. I had no desire to celebrate the new year. I didn’t even want it to come. At 9:40 p.m., I officially gave up. I knelt by the couch to kiss my husband, John, goodnight.

“The earlier I go to bed, the sooner this year will be over,” I said.

John nodded. It had been an awful year. He kissed me gently. Then he said, “Let’s get drunk.”

I’ve known John for 25 years. He’s never had a drink in his life. He doesn’t even like alcohol.

“How about you get me a six-pack of wine coolers?” he said.

I laughed. I hadn’t laughed in months. “Wine coolers come in packs of four.”

He said, “Then you’d better go. I bet the gas station closes at 10.”

I was already in my nightgown, but I changed clothes and jumped in the car. The nearest gas station was already locked, presumably to provide its employees with a couple extra celebratory hours. So I headed to the grocery store.

There were three of us there at 10 p.m. that New Year’s Eve. One was buying six 12-packs of Dos Equis and several bottles of champagne. The other was buying PowerAde and orange juice, for a celebration of another kind, I guess. And then there was me, with my $3.85 four-pack of Seagram’s Classic Lime Margarita. I picked that one because when John has occasionally sipped my margarita, he said it kind of tasted like limeade, only limeade tasted better.

I returned home, triumphant and, to be honest, a little nervous. He opened a wine cooler, and I poured a glass of shiraz. We clinked drinking implements and said, “Salud.”

“Aren’t you supposed to eat when you drink?” John asked.

“Only if you don’t want to get drunk,” I said.

He looked through the pantry. “Fritos!” he announced. “Fritos and wine coolers. Happy New Year’s Eve!” In a few minutes he eyed me as he opened a second wine cooler. “You’re not drinking yours fast enough.”

“I can’t drink fast. That’s not what I do,” I said.

“Do you want some Fritos?”

I made a face, and he laughed. I couldn’t remember the last time he laughed, either.

College football was on. I was not paying attention to the game, but sitting there, stunned that my until-then-tetotalling husband was enjoying a drink made for teenagers. John was on his third wine cooler and, thanks to the 3.8 percent alcohol in those suckers, still completely sober. The whole thing was crazy. Good crazy.

When the game ended, we still had an hour to go before midnight. John said, “Let’s go to bed.” So we did, and not because we were sad. Neither of us cared that we wouldn’t see the new year until the next morning.

When I awoke, there was an email waiting for me from L.L. Barkat, asking if she could publish one of my poems, oh, and by the way, would I like to write a book? This book. She already had a title and a cover and everything. Maybe the new year wouldn’t be so bad.

Then I made tea (Wuyi oolong), and I read a poem. Because that’s what I do every morning before I write — drink tea and read a poem.

 

The Year

What can be said in New Year rhymes,

That’s not been said a thousand times?

 

The new years come, the old years go,

We know we dream, we dream we know.

 

We rise up laughing with the light,

We lie down weeping with the night.

 

We hug the world until it stings,

We curse it then and sigh for wings.

 

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,

We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

 

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,

And that’s the burden of the year.

 

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 

Your turn, poetry peeps. Thanks again for joining me this month with your thoughts and observations. May the rest of your year be filled with poetry. And tea.

Poetry Club, day 19

For our penultimate meeting of the poetry club, I’m posting not a poem but something about poetry by that oh so wise bear, Winnie-the-Pooh.

 

“When you are reciting poetry, which is a thing we never do, you find sometimes, just as you are beginning, that Uncle John is still telling Aunt Rose that if he can’t find his spectacles he won’t be able to hear properly, and does she know where they are; and by the time everybody has stopped looking for them, you are at the last verse, and in another minute they will be saying, ‘Thank-you, thank-you,’ without really knowing what it was all about.”

~ from the introduction to Now We Are Six, by A.A. Milne

Isn’t that the standard reaction to poetry (if you can get anyone to listen at all) — “Thank-you, thank-you,” with absolutely no comprehension. Perhaps, like dear Uncle John, we need spectacles to hear properly.

Yes, that’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s also true. We can’t read poetry the same way we read a novel. Poetry is like wine. You don’t chug wine, do you? Do you? I hope not.

Poetry is more like tea. You need time to sip and savor, to smell as well as taste. You need the sort of spectacles that allow you to not only read the words but hear them too. Poetry has rhythm and sometimes rhyme. Don’t chug it. Grab your reading glasses and turn up the volume.

If you’re going to love poetry, you might as well start with A.A. Milne. I did. Now We Are Six is the first book of poetry I ever read by myself — a gift from my mother on my sixth birthday. Milne’s other children’s poetry book is When We Were Very Young.

In fact, if you are looking for some spectacles to hear properly, it’s best to start with Pooh, someone who spent a great deal of time writing poetry and hums. Pooh’s hums are actually songs, but since Milne didn’t include musical notes, let’s just call them what they are: poems.

Turn with me to The House at Pooh Corner, to the story “In Which Eeyore Finds the Wolery and Owl Moves Into It.” It contains some of the best poetry advice ever. The story includes Pooh’s longest hum — with seven verses — to commemorate Piglet’s brave deed in the previous story. It took Pooh a while to create this hum because poetry, as he admits, “it isn’t easy.”

“Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

True, Pooh. You can’t rush poetry.

“Well,” said Pooh after a long wait, “I shall begin ‘Here lies a tree’ because it does, and then I’ll see what happens.”

A very good place to start. Then he composes.

“So there it is,” said Pooh, when he had sung this to himself three times. “It’s come different from what I thought it would, but it’s come.”

Poems often come differently from what you thought, and those are usually the best poems. A good poem often surprises the reader. In this case, the reader is Piglet.

 So Pooh hummed it to him, all the seven verses and Piglet said nothing, but just stood and glowed.

Never before had anyone sung ho for Piglet (PIGLET) ho all by himself. When it was over, he wanted to ask for one of the verses over again, but didn’t quite like to. It was the verse beginning “O gallant Piglet,” and it seemed to him a very thoughtful way of beginning a piece of poetry.

Yes, it was thoughtful, wasn’t it? That line is actually the beginning of verse 5, so you see, sometimes you have to work your way up to something as grand as O gallant Piglet (PIGLET)! Ho!”

But gallant Piglet soon spies a problem in this seven-verse hum. He was there, after all, and it didn’t all happen exactly like Pooh said. Piglet asks the eternal question: Should poems tell the truth? Or, as he puts it,

 “Did I really do all that?” he said at last.

Pooh has the best answer on truth in poetry that I’ve ever heard.

“Well,” said Pooh, “in poetry — in a piece of poetry — well, you did it, Piglet, because the poetry says you did. And that’s how people know.”

There you have it. It’s true because the poetry says so.

 

Poetry Club, day 18

Earlier this week my current friend and former editor Dayna Avery sent me to listen to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s podcast, What Should I Read Next? The latest episode, “What to read if Google wrecked your brain,” is about poetry. She interviews a poet named Dave Harrity, and he mentioned this poem by William Stafford, which at one point was in The Joy of Poetry. 
We discussed the poem in our writer’s group one time, which led to a discussion of Deer Encounters. (Welcome to the Texas Hill Country!) Most of ours were funny. This one is not, but it stuck with each of us.
Traveling through the Dark
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
~William Stafford

 

Your turn.