Archives for April 2012

Poetry Emergency

Just as two 13-year-old girls bounded up with a Welcome!

sign, so happy I would be reading poetry (and interrupting

Language Arts), the bell rang: Fire drill.

Students walked outside in an orderly fashion

arranged themselves in straight lines,

waited for the teacher to tell them it was safe.

They squirmed in conformity

while I flipped through a mess of papers

for the perfect poem.

When it was determined that all was well,

we returned to air-conditioning. Me, sweating

with fear to read a poem to middle schoolers.

Obviously, I read the wrong one

one that ran zigzag through

expectations for proper composition.

Sensing an emergency,

the teacher thanked me for coming

and ushered me out before the next bell rang.

The poem was Ted Kooser’s “Selecting a Reader.”

Sunken Ships, Sunken Words

“When you do a hunt, you go where it definitely isn’t. And pick a direction.” –Dr. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic.

On April 14, on the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Robert Ballard speak at Titanic Belfast, the new exhibition honoring the city that built the ship. And although Ballard was speaking about how he goes about hunting for sunken ships (which he is still doing), his thoughts apply to words as well.

Where do you go looking for the words, when you’ve looked and looked and looked?

Ballard had looked for the Titanic before and failed. He and his co-explorers had used the same technique every time, known as “mowing the lawn”–back and forth, back and forth. The problem was that they didn’t know the ship had broken in half (they hadn’t seen James Cameron’s movie!). In 1985, Ballard decided to look at the patterns of the currents, and it opened a new way of seeing.

There are times we sit at our laptops, and it feels like mowing the lawn. And really, we can go a long way with that discipline. Sometimes, though, we need to approach the page in a new way. What if we aren’t looking for an intact whole? What if we pick a direction and go looking where we know there is no story?

We just might find a debris field.

for Deidra


I hear your green glider squeak

I feel your foot push it back and forth on the porch

I see the sun shining on your toes,

painted with bright pink polish

I smell the sand clinging to your wet denim jeans

I taste your collard greens

I taste the fried okra your sweet H made in the kitchen

I smell that oxygen mask you needed for that smelly

Boot Camp

I see your trunk staring with eyes wide open

I feel the splash of the waves around your ankles

Most of all I hear your voice through that email:

{I’m whispering here} will you write a book?

A Wee Tree

Just got back from my visit to Northern Ireland last night. I had no idea that I’d see cherry blossoms in full color all over the country. I also had no idea that our guide, Ken McElroy, would delight us by reciting Irish poetry each day. Ken, thanks for a lovely trip!


I’m leaving for the next few days for a trip to Northern Ireland. I’ll be back here on the 22nd, after I finish my work.

In this poem, I took the phrases that appear in bold type from various websites and added my own words in between. This exercise sort of/kind of came from a book of poetry exercises called “Wingbeats.”

What are they planning
for five days in Belfast?
The political situation has improved substantially since the days of The Troubles.
Such a quaint name for such violence.
“Create your perfect day out,”
the website says. In spring the fields will be full of
flax flowers,
bright blue in a land known for green.

Northern Ireland is complex,
as is the issue of citizenship and identity.

We will visit the grave of St. Patrick,
a saint for all seasons.
You can impress Catholics and Protestants (probably not at the same time).
So raise your glass, laugh heartily, say nothing.
They only turn around when they like
what they hear and wish to declare an interest.

Think not on the disaster that precipitated your trip.
Titanic is a globally recognised brand.
Keep your eyes open for
spooks are undermining peace in Northern Ireland.
But MAKE no mistake about it
you are going.

Lents I Have Known: 6

This is a fairly big Easter for me. On Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., I’ll be at church for the Great Vigil of Easter, and by the end of the service–2 1/2 to 3 hours later–I will have been confirmed in the Catholic church.

So, why, I hear you all asking. Why?

I’ve been planning the answer for months, as if it were a talk in front of an audience. It’s even got a joke in it. But it’s too long to post here.

Instead, I want to tell you about my friend, Martha (Hi, Martha!). She just recently found out about my decision and said, “Oh! I was raised in the Catholic church. I was even in religious life for several years.”

For you Protestants out there, that means Martha was a nun.

I don’t know all of her reasons for leaving, but after she did she met her husband, and they have three beautiful daughters–inside and out. In fact, I don’t know of a more Godly family anywhere.

God led Martha in one direction, and he’s led me in another. That’s OK.

Happy Easter, everyone.


Don’t Mess With Poets

If you mess with a poet, you are likely to end up in a poem.


I know I’m not a typical fish. I swim different.

My suit is plain, polyester. Black.

I am polite to the other fishes, especially the slow ones

who show up every day and carefully swim their laps.


I hope to swim more conventionally someday.


But you

you with the white swim cap and a suit like mine

you crowded me to the lane’s edge this morning.

I moved over to make room. I was happy to share.

I always share. You didn’t budge. Stared me down.

“Can’t you do your water walking somewhere else?”

(I aqua jog!)

I looked at the kids in the shallow end and said, “I guess.”

Joined them and their new goggles.


It didn’t matter — even though I was there first —

until you let another fish share your lane,

a beautiful fish in a tropical suit with perfect form.


So, it’s just me?


Listen, lady.

You’re going to have to throw me out to shore tomorrow

over and over and over again and again and again

because you are not the only fish in the sea

and I share.