Archives for September 2012

Bag of Bones

I’m at Laity Lodge today. No poem.

A few days ago, Emily Wierenga released her book “Chasing Silouettes: a place of hope and healing for families and caregivers on the eating disorder journey.” Emily, I haven’t read it yet. I’m still trying to get up the courage.

You were a bag of bones, Emily. I know what that’s like because I was, too. Everyone is gawking at your 9. I was even younger when I started restricting, but I don’t like to give out my numbers. Besides, it’s the story that matters.

You recommended a story for me to read right before I left. Do you remember? “Bag of Bones” by Stephen King. Very therapeutic, in a strange way. And it was free therapy, since I got the book at the library.

Here’s my favorite paragraph (since King says that the paragraph is the basic unit of writing—not the sentence):

This is how we go on: one day at a time, one meal at a time, one pain at a time, one breath at a time. Dentists go on one root-canal at a time; boat-builders go on one hull at a time. If you write books, you go on one page at a time. We turn from all we know and all we fear. We study catalogues, watch football games, choose Sprint over AT&T. We count the birds in the sky and will not turn from the window when we hear the footsteps behind us as something comes up the hall; we say yes, I agree that clouds often look like other things—fish and unicorns and men on horseback—but they are really only clouds. Even when the lightning flashes inside them we say they are only clouds and turn our attention to the next meal, the next pain, the next breath, the next page. This is how we go on.”

I think you and I both know a little bit about going on, Emily. Someday we’ll sit by the water together, drink a beer and talk stories. And maybe even numbers, too.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”

This post is inspired by the song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” recorded in 2003 by Johnny Cash and released posthumously in 2006 on “American V: A Hundred Highways.”

So, I died. Kind of unexpectedly. And when I got to the pearly gates, it wasn’t St. Peter waiting for me. It was Johnny Cash.

He was dressed in black, like in all the pictures, holding his guitar and singing, “Go tell that long-tongue liar / Go and tell that midnight rider / Tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter / Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.”

I walked right up to him, then stopped.

He asked, “Which one were you, darlin’?”

I said, “Well, I did lie. An awful lot.”

“What’d you lie about?”

“Pretty much everything. And I said a lot of awful things when I was angry, but those things weren’t the truth. Those were the lies. I was just mad. I just—before I got here I wanted to somehow stop hurting everyone.”

Johnny set down his guitar. “Well, hon, didn’t you realize those people you hurt, they were gonna be here, too, someday?”

“I did, Johnny. But I figured I’d have some time to, you know, straighten it all out with them. Then, by the time they finally got here, I’d be all happy to see them,” I looked down. “But, you know, it didn’t quite go that way.”

He shook his head and sang another line from the song, acapella: “What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”

I looked up. It was too light. I mean, really. Who needed this kind of illumination?

“I’ve been down on bended knee / talkin’ to the man from Galilee,” Johnny Cash caught my eye when I tried to avoid his. “You know him?”

I nodded, but right then and there, it didn’t feel like I knew him at all.

“He spoke to me in the voice so sweet / I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet,” Johnny sang, then spoke. “You ever heard that voice?”

“Once,” I said. “It wasn’t exactly good news, though.”

“The good news already came,” he said, picking back up his guitar and quietly strumming. “You can run on for a long time / run on for a long time.”

I didn’t say anything, because who’s gonna interrupt Johnny Cash in the middle of a song? But I knew I’d stopped running. I also knew I probably couldn’t go any farther — certainly not through those gates. But I’d be happy to just sit there. Sure. I could spend eternity listening to the Man in Black sing. Yeah. I could sit in while he visited with all of humanity, one at a time.

He was still singing, “Well, goodness, gracious. Let me tell you the news.”

The next words to the song popped into my head, and before I could stop myself, I sang along: “My head’s been wet with the midnight dew.”

He stopped playing. “Go on in, darlin’. They’re waitin’ for you.”

Here’s the video. It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen.

A self portrait poem

A good poem needs no explanation. This is not a good poem. But the explanation for it is better than the thing itself. This video was featured on the “RadioLab” podcast of September 10, 2012 called “What a Slinky Knows.”


I am steel coil

propelled by my own momentum I bounce

I stretch

I am graceful, sinuous—a slinky silver dress

I bend

I curve

I am simple, common

And yet, I can do magic

Dangle me over the edge of a cliff

Until I can extend myself no farther, then release

Me into a state of constant collapse

My top half will fall while my bottom half hovers

Defying the law of gravity

I rotate and contort as the compressions press against me

It takes a lot for me to fall.

Billy Elliot, Texas-Style

I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, and I’ve been to a fair number of high school football games. This year, we have season tickets because our daughter is in band. Recently, when we played a non-conference opponent, I saw something I’ve never seen on a high school gridiron—a male dancer.

A little background. This high school is located in a really bad part of San Antonio, what my father-in-law calls “Victory Fellowship territory,” after the ministry of Freddie and Ninfa Garcia, who do a lot of work with addicts. The school could not afford proper band uniforms. Everyone wore matching polo-style shirts and their own pair of khaki sorts. The clothes blended, but they didn’t exactly match. And when the dance team took the field, there were only six members. One was a guy.

“Oh, he’s gotta be good,” I thought to myself. Because in order for a boy to make a dance team in Texas in a rough part of town, he better be good.

He was beyond good. He was awesome. He was better than all the girls. I used to dance and do drill team, so I can recognize a good high kick when I see one. His kicked—.

At the same time, I had another thought running through my head. It went like this: “OhmyGod, OhmyGod, OhmyGod, OhmyGod, OhmyGod.” And you can fault me if you want to, but it was a prayer. A prayer that no one on my side of the field would say anything mean about this young man.

We were sitting in the reserved seating section, but I still worried about the people around us: men, women, parents and grandparents who might not have a high opinion of a teenage boy who danced. I worried about the student section, where I refused to turn my head to look too closely because I didn’t want to see a sneer, a point, even a chuckle. My husband, who is tall and was standing on the top row, did look, mainly to see if anyone related to us was saying anything inappropriate. (They weren’t.)

There was a moment when the dance team dropped down into the splits. The young man dropped right down, too, all the way, in one swift, perfect movement. A collective cry of pain—“Oh!”—went up from some males in the front row.

“Oh!” is OK.

I thought of the musical “Billy Elliot,” even though I’ve never seen it. It’s one I want to see, about a British boy with a talent for ballet and a miner father who is on strike. I don’t know how this kid’s background compares to Billy Elliot’s. I don’t know if there was teasing that I didn’t hear. I don’t know if he gets bullied at school. I don’t know if, like Billy, he can throw a good punch.

But I know that every Friday night in Texas, he steps onto a football field and dances. And he’s really good.

To Laura, from Megan, on “The Novelist”

If you’ve read L.L. Barkat’s “The Novelist” (and if you haven’t, you should), you’ll know that Laura had a few questions for Megan. I answer them here as best I can, despite the fact that I am not a tea empress, nor did I know this project was in the works until it was almost finished. 

Yes, I like rain, and I like to walk uncovered in it. Preferably in Colorado. (We don’t get enough in Texas.) At home, I just duck. No umbrellas. No hoods.
Also, I drink my tea in mugs — all of which are precious to me, like your cup with the frog. At Christmas, I switch to cups and saucers, all from various china patterns.
I have not read every book, but I do read an awful lot. I know very little.
I’ve read your book twice. I’m sorry it took me longer than usual, but it was the first week of school, and it had more than enough drama. Anyway.
I’m still in shock. I feel like someone just gave me a check for, oh, $500,000, and I never planned for that contingency. What on earth does a person do with a gift like this? It is truly bizarre to see my name in the story, on Amazon, and to know that in some odd way, I did get you to write a novel.
My favorite sentence? “Megan had lost her mind.” I know I should pick another, but it’s true. And, “This thing with Megan was ridiculous.” And, “Megan with her crazy dreams.” And, “how unusual Megan really was.” Oh, and, “Damn that Megan.”
Of course, there are lots of other things I like, too. The recurring purple imagery. (In fifth grade, I wore purple every day. Mr. Henry, the bus driver, called me the Queen of Purple). I love Laura’s mother, who is sneaky—a word that got redeemed for me through “The Artist’s Way.” A woodsman bearing rescue tea equipment. The de-hinged screen door. The unusual poem illustrated with Kelly’s photo of sorrowful feet. The wreck. Frankenstein. Poems I recognized and poems I didn’t.
I think you are the James in the novel, both teacher and mischief-maker. You pick people out of obscurity and help them to bloom profusely. Our Galinda.
I am taking Jeff Overstreet’s fiction class at Laity. I haven’t decided what to bring, if anything. I’m mainly going because he titled his workshop “Tell it Slant.” If I ever tell my story, that’s how I’ll do it. Maybe I’ll just bring poems and freak him out.
I would like to be “happily perseverant,” but right now I’ll settle for plain ol’ perseverant. I am happy when I walk my dogs under the ever-changing moon. I am happy when I make my tea and drink it and write on my back porch. I am happy in the mysteries of Catholicism (I came into the church at Easter. One woman proudly introduced me saying, “She is doing this all by herself! She’s so strong.”)
Signing off with Earl Grey with lavender — the only way I will drink Earl Grey. Happy Labor Day, now that this labor, at least, is finished.

Word Candy Sunday

The Artist Dates: Nothing

As Dang Julia July came to an end, I considered what my artist child might want to do on her last artist date.

The answer: nothing.

Not a thing.

See, I knew then what is true now—one month later—now that the school year is full swing and there are no free moments. Monday through Friday is full. Friday night is full. All day Saturday is full. Sunday is technically free, but that’s when we catch up on the things we couldn’t get to Monday through Saturday.

So on my last artist date, on which I happened to be alone for most of the day, I did a whole lot of nuthin’. I laid around. I listened to podcasts. I plucked the dying rose petals off my anniversary bouquet. I made a new Pandora station. I watched the Olympics.

Now, exactly four weeks later, I’m glad I did. My artist child needed a lazy summer day.

An Abecedarian Poem

And I am sitting here

beside myself, wondering, how did we

come to this tired impasse again?

Decide now.

Excuses are


Get up, my sweet


I love you

(just so you

know) but

love at 41 is different than love at 21,

my dear. I have

no energy to gaze adoringly, to

organize meals. I’m barely

prepared to drive everyone to

quality time apart from me.

Rest is what I crave.


Trust me,

U are still my first text message every day. Your

voice still makes me smile

when you hug me in the kitchen

xpecting more than I can give.

Yes, kiss me quickly, before I