Archives for January 2014

29 January 2014

I have always been a butterfly girl.

I had not one but two butterfly-themed bedrooms. The first, in the 1970s, was orange and yellow and white. The second, in the 1980s, was blue and mauve and lavender. I’ve owned butterfly jewelry from James Avery and other designers. And somewhere along the way, perhaps in Sunday school or even directly from my mom, I came to love the whole butterfly-as-Christian-metaphor thing, for death and resurrection.

Get ready to revise your theology. (Don’t worry! It’s better than you imagined.)

If you have 15 minutes to spare, listen to this segment from the “RadioLab” podcast, the episode called “Black Box.” The butterfly stuff is in the last segment called “Goo and You.”

A poem about my favorite mineral water

(If you don’t know and love Topo Chico, Mexican mineral water, you obviously don’t live in Texas or Mexico. This poem was also inspired by  “Bottled Water” by Kim Dower, featured at American Life in Poetry: Column 460).

“Siempre cae bien” Always goes down well.


Tonight I do not need a margarita

a mojito

a Mexican martini will not fortify


me. But then again

I don’t have weeks to travel to a magical

thermal spring


(though I may have an incurable disease)

just like King Moctezuma’s daughter

the Aztec princess


I don’t know whose face is sunk

deep in the prodigal stream—drawn

right there on the label of my Topo Chico


I only know sometimes you must drown

your sorrows

submit to the flow from that mole-


shaped hill    stay all day

Stay all week

Stay until you’re well enough to lift your head

24 January 2014

I was so hoping to take Polo and Clover for a walk in the snow today, but we didn’t get snow. We got ice.

Little doggies do not like to walk in ice, nor do little doggie owners. So, we are warm beside the fire. School is cancelled. About half of the kids in the district live out in the country, and the roads are worse even 1 mile out of town.

My daughter got the dogs all comfy by the fire. Polo has the good dog bed and her favorite blanket and stuffed animal. And Clover has the pink sleeping bag and her favorite blanket and stuffed animal. And I am drinking eggnog-flavored green and black tea and listening to Christmas music.

Because we don’t get winter weather very often. By Sunday it will be warm again. (I won’t say how warm, lest I risk the wrath of all my friends who live with this for months on end.)

Glynn Young’s “Poetry at Work” and Sandwiches

It was a rotten week, all because of a scheduled phone call. When a phone call is scheduled, you know it’s gonna be bad. I tried to take myself out to lunch at my favorite sandwich shop to fortify myself, but I was greeted by a letter on the door, telling me it was closed and why.

I broke down sobbing. I was inconsolable the rest of the day, all because I could not get their veggie sandwich with turkey. (Yes, I contradict myself. I contain multitudes.)

In Poetry at WorkGlynn Young has a chapter called “The Poetry of the Crisis.” He writes:

It’s difficult to see when you’re in the thick of a crisis, but you can look for the poetry that’s there, because it is there. You can see it in the themes, the metaphors, the rhythm and flow, what words are used and how they are used. And finding the poetry in the crisis will suggest the path forward.

So, we were both having a crisis—the family who owned the sandwich shop and I. Now, I should’ve felt compassion for the owners, the Bedfords. They’re closing their shop  because their daughter, who was born with a rare disease, isn’t doing well. But that day, all I could see was that I wasn’t getting my sandwich—the one I needed to fortify myself for the phone call.

Where’s the poetry in that?

I sent an email to a friend and asked her to pray about the phone call. I also told her about the sandwich shop closing. I didn’t tell her why.

She sent another email the next morning to ask how the phone call went. I told her it didn’t go well.

“Hm….man. Is the sandwich place open today?” she asked.

“It’s closed closed. That’s why I was sobbing,” I wrote. I didn’t tell her why. I didn’t want her to know how petty I was.

“Ack!!” she wrote, followed shortly afterward by another email that said, “You’ve got enough grief and loss in your life without having the lunch treat, a little refuge, taken from you. Quick, let’s think of some purchase-able pleasure in town…..Was this the one that closed, Java Ranch? How about the Nest? Alamo Springs Cafe? Clear River Pecan Bakery? Woerner? Sweet Marley’s?”

I wrote back, “Sweet Marley’s is what closed. I like Woerner’s. (It’s also a feed store.) Alamo Springs is great when it’s warm—always full of motorcyclists, the kind of place where you just grab your beer from the fridge. Clear River is best for dessert. The Nest is super fancy. Never been. Maybe I’ll take my computer to Woerner’s. I have lots of editing. thank you.”

So, I slipped my laptop into my red case and took off for Woerner’s. I ordered their tuna sandwich that comes with lots of veggies and a good side salad.

I ate. I edited. I checked my email. My friend forwarded that day’s selection from Every Day Poems. It was called “The Woman at the Stoplight” by Claire Bateman. “I felt you in this poem,” she wrote.

I see in her face

that oh, she needs it too—

Yes, my friend knew exactly what I needed.

so with the full force

of my small ferocity,

She made sure that I got a sandwich. And after the sandwich, I went home and took a long nap. I woke up actually feeling refreshed, which felt wrong because the crisis surrounding the phone call was still a crisis. But my body was acting like a body, responding to having had a good sandwich and a good nap. And a good poem.

for a breath

of self-replenishment,



or only just

a breath,

(stanza break)

The poem and the sandwich gave me a stanza break from my crisis. Sure, I would’ve preferred a Sweet Marley’s sandwich and to have avoided that stupid phone call in the first place. But Marley’s parents would prefer that their daughter not have RCDP, rhizomelic chondrodysplasia punctata, and that they not need to close their restaurant to care for her.

This is what I know to be true—I live in a body that needs sandwiches, especially during a crisis when I can’t see the way forward. I also need poetry, it’s themes and metaphors and rhythm and flow, what words are used and how, like Glynn says.

The sandwich was over and done with in half an hour. The poem I printed to save in my scrapbook. If I really, really, really decide I can’t live without a Sweet Marley’s sandwich, I can drive out to a nearby state park, where they are operating a food truck. Sure, 15 miles seems like it’s out of the way, but as the poem says, that’s “far from too much / to ask.” 

What would it cost

Less than 10 bucks.

Despite this double crisis (the daughter’s illness and the storefront closing), Marley’s family is looking to the future. Here’s what the the end of the letter posted on their restaurant door reads:

We are looking forward to the future and all that it has in store. God’s plan, while not always understood, is perfect. Perhaps that future will hold a new version of Sweet Marley’s.

No poet could have said it better.

Poetry at Work

15 January 2014

Polo and Clover aren’t playing together anymore.

For the last couple of weeks, after I take my daughter to school and settle in to write, Clover wants to go outside, and Polo wants to stay inside. Clover does have long hair, so she’s better adapted to the chilly mornings, but she’s always been the weather wimp. Now, she’s going out and staying out. She stays busy barking and chasing and flirting with Scout, next door. They were both digging a joint hole on either side of the fence yesterday.

At the moment, Polo is curled on the pink sleeping bag beneath the desk where I’m working. I can hear Clover barking, although I can’t see her.

Tonight, they’ll probably sleep in separate spaces — again. That’s been happening more and more often. When I boarded them over Christmas, the vet told me that Polo stole the blanket from Clover and wouldn’t let her use it.

I can’t think what happened. I don’t think I’ve been doing anything different.

Christmas Morning poem

(The other day, my daughter was playing a bunch of Miley Cyrus songs—both old and new. Then I had an assignment to write a poem about a celebrity.)



Miley Cyrus went home to Tennessee for Christmas

like Cinderella after the ball.


All the family was there, all their kids. Her uncle

brought his cat.


Dinner was pulled pork with all the fixins

more pies than ought to be allowed.


The cousins raced

to pour the first cup of Granny’s cider.


Miley drank coffee — wore a huge sweater,

old jeans. The fire did its thing


until 4:32 a.m., when the embers died down.

She’d planned to crash on the couch but couldn’t


sleep. Before everyone woke, she grabbed a trash bag

emptied the ash, spoonful by spoonful,


cleaning it like it had never been cleaned ever.

“Why’d you do that, hon?” Billy Ray asked


when he came downstairs. Miley

shrugged. She couldn’t say.


10 January 2014

Yesterday, Polo and Clover  literally chased the mailman.

They’d been cooped up all morning, since it was foggy and misty when I left to take my daughter to school and then go work out, so they were restless when I finally returned. I happened to open the garage door and pull in right as good ol’ Mailman Tim was pulling his truck up to the mailbox. (We don’t have mail trucks in our neighborhood—just pickup trucks with a U.S. Mail sign on them.)

So, the puppies ran out and chased Tim’s truck all the way to next door. Polo was barking right by the driver’s side door. Have I mentioned that she’s more aggressive with strangers? Clover looks at strangers like, “Sure, I’ll bark, but I’m actually looking to see if I can use you to carry out my secret plan.”

I called the puppies back, and they ran right up on the front porch to the front door, even though they almost never come in that way. Finally, I coaxed them back into the garage, and then they ran out the back door to the backyard, so they could chase some other pickup that was in the alley.

Our town has a lot of pickups.


Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s “Cracking Up”

I would argue that Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s book “Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis” is a writing memoir.

It’s a writing memoir set within the context of postpartum depression following the births of her twins, all structured around the church calendar. The setting of this book is also the failure of her first book (I’m using her word!). But of course, we know the end—there’s this new book, the one we’re holding in our hands. So, as much as Kimberlee felt like a failure as a writer, she obviously isn’t because—glory be!—she wrote this.

“I don’t live, really, unless I’m writing. Words are how I see things.”

Yes, Kimberlee. That’s how I am, too. I went to see a musical last night; I wrote about it this morning. That’s how I roll, and apparently, how you do, too. That’s why I’m writing this Saturday morning. The magazine is at the printer’s. Technically, I’m off for the holidays. But why wouldn’t I write in this pocket of free space that graciously opened itself to me?

So, when Kimberlee can’t write very much, especially during those early months with the twins, it hits her hard. She hopes that not only will the writing come back eventually but that it will come back stronger because of motherhood.

“Eventually those two conflicting vocations would flow together, and both vocations would be stronger because of the other one.”

There are times when life (in this case, motherhood) is so strong and intense—like treading water far, far out to sea—that you can’t possibly write. And yet, those are the very times about which you will eventually have something worthwhile to say. Maybe, as it did for Kimberlee, it will come out as memoir. For me, it usually comes out as poetry. Someone else might turn it into a novel or a humorous essay. The key is to ride out the conflict until those vocations can strengthen each other.

“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”

This quote in Kimberlee’s book is from Jean Rhys in an interview he gave to “The Paris Review.” That’s what Kimberlee does in the meantime in which this book is set—she keeps feeding the lake, journaling when she can, here and there, bit by bit. It’s what I try to do, too. Madeliene L’Engle used to say this kind of writing is as important as practicing your scales on the piano. It’s not very glamorous, but it feeds the lake. So, when one of us writerly types gets an Idea, we can go to the lake with a big ol’ bucket because we know we’ve put enough in to take a bit out.

“I am okay when I write.”

On my not-okay days, I must write. That’s how I get to okay. When I can’t, it’s very, very hard to get to okay. Now, for me (and this may only be me), I often can’t write about what’s actually happening. That can throw me into a tailspin. But it is essential that I write something—maybe about the dogs, maybe about the Harry Potter chapter I listened to last night, maybe about that cold front. It only matters, as Mary Oliver admonishes, that I pay attention. And write it down.

One really precious part in Kimberlee’s book is when she learns that an article she submitted has been accepted for publication:

“‘The editors didn’t change anything.’ I grin big. ‘I really am that smart. I really am a good writer.’” And then she adds, “I can write. I can! I’m even good at it sometimes.”

Those rare days of flawless prose and the realization that I’m actually sort of kind of good at writing don’t come often enough, but when they do, oh, the unbridled joy!

The day I finished Kimberlee’s book was a day about which I had been feeling a great deal of anxiety. I’m not prone to anxiety, but recent circumstances have proven that I can be turned to the dark side. Frankly, my anxiety didn’t cover what actually happened that day. Justknowing that Kimberlee eventually got better enough to write this book helped me.

That day, a tiny little thought bubbled to the surface of the vast writing lake: What might I write when all this slows down?

“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”

Yes, I’m quoting a song from the movie “Frozen” again. And it’s not an entirely appropriate reference for what I’m about to say, but it’s what came to mind, so I’m going with it.

In the song, Anna asks her sister, Elsa, to come out and play. Friends, I feel like a certain someone knocked on my door New Year’s Day and asked, “Do you want to build a snowman?” Only what she actually asked was, “Do you want to write a book for us?”

Unlike Elsa, I opened the door. Said yes. Signed a contract with the good folks at TS Poetry.

Apparently, Laura Barkat (who is more like Elsa than Anna, although she’s not given to using her powers to encase cities in ice) had already been playing with the idea for a while.

Hence, there’s already a cover:

Joy of Poetry Front Cover

Forthcoming in 2015.