LIFE: JUST ONE DAMNED PROCESS AFTER ANOTHER

Last year, I was working through a list of poetry prompts.  One of them was “A Process.”  I liked the word itself, with its varied pronunciations and meanings, its ability to function as a noun or a verb, the way it was changed by the addition of a prefix or a suffix and how it captured the whole of life as well as its many individual parts:

LIFE’S NEVER-ENDING PROCESS

Surviving the birth process
Processing language
Processed American cheese
grilled into sandwiches
Film processed into photos
Falling in love and
processing down the aisle
in a gown of ivory lace
Enduring the hiring process
Inprocessing a new job
Learning that my chosen field
follows its own process
Flow charts of our processes,
processed and reprocessed,
Process Improvement
the subject of every meeting
Queues to process
The mortgage process
Endless forms to be processed
Computers processing data
I don’t want processed
selling my information,
a global marketing process
A legal process once or twice
Outprocessing my job,
a daunting process
The retirement process,
and the adjustment process
Processing to the next phase,
a procession of words
in my brain just waiting to be
processed into poetry
A blissful, procreative process
so resolutely unsystematic,
it might not be a process at all
Pure unprocessed freedom
in such an overprocessed world
is, admittedly, a lot to process

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WHEN THE GEARS START SLIPPING…

I’m going to start this post by saying that my mom is fine, as sharp and independent as ever.  Because when I read this poem for people, they approach me afterward and tell me they’re sorry to hear that, or share stories about their own caregiving struggles.  These lines are a patch-work of tales told to me by my patients, family, friends and neighbors about the challenges and heartbreaks of looking after someone with dementia.  This poem (a triolet series) goes out to all the caregivers:

CAREGIVER’S SONG

Mom pulls on a ratty sweater,
the one she will not go without,
even in the hottest weather
Mom pulls on a ratty sweater
I save my breath and don’t upset her
unless her pants are inside-out
Mom pulls on a ratty sweater,
the one she will not go without

Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
She just stares blankly at her plate
Ignoring vegetables and meat
Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
But how her eyes light up for sweets,
a dish of ice cream, piece of cake
Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
She just stares blankly at her plate

Mom makes lively conversation
with an empty kitchen chair
Since her mind went on vacation,
Mom makes lively conversation
with her long-deceased relations
as if they were sitting there
Mom makes lively conversation
with an empty kitchen chair

Mom pores over family pictures,
staring at a toddler’s face
Who is this?  she points and whispers
Mom pores over family pictures
A childhood me with my big sister
Precious memories gone, erased
Mom pores over family pictures
staring at a toddler’s face

Mom can’t follow TV shows,
but ogles actors shamelessly,
certain they are men she knows
Mom can’t follow TV shows,
Bosses, neighbors, high school beaus,
not Hollywood celebrities
Mom can’t follow TV shows,
but ogles actors shamelessly

At night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
and wanders from her cozy bed
Unsure where she is, I think,
at night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
A spectre in pajamas pink
shuffles through the house instead
At night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
and wanders from her cozy bed

I care about Mom’s happiness
and sit with her around-the-clock
Despite exhaustion, tears, and stress
I care about Mom’s happiness
No time to breathe or decompress
or take a walk around the block
I care about Mom’s happiness
and sit with her around-the-clock

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AN ARACHNID AND HER TAJ MAHAL

‘Tis the season for critters.  It’s been unseasonably warm this week and the bugs are back in force.  Big, bumbling “carpenter” bees pollinating things, or maybe building a hive around the corner.  Primordial-looking stink bugs emerging from winter hibernation.  House flies.  Fleas.  And the most dreaded of all creepy-crawlies, ticks—Lyme disease, anyone? Around this time last year, or maybe two years ago, a tiny spider began constructing a home in my potted lime tree.  Is there such a thing as a “carpenter” spider?  Every day, I’d think about moving her outside, but then, I’d see the artistic additions she had made to her web overnight and change my mind.  This cascade poem is for her:

SCHEHERAZADE

An eight-legged Scheherazade
spins a new yarn every night,
slowly building a silken castle
that delights and fascinates me

Early summer, she crossed my
threshold, took up residence in
a potted plant, and pled to stay,
an eight-legged Scheherazade

She sleeps all day, striped legs
folded neatly around her body,
while her industrious alter ego
spins a new yarn every night

On a solid foundation, she adds
an east wing, a towering turret,
and a series of flying buttresses,
slowly building a silken castle

Her keen architectural prowess
is revealed in the morning sun
a shimmering, glittering genius
that delights and fascinates me

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FELINE ONLINE, WINTER QUARTER

During those long winter nights when it is too cold for an outdoor cat to go out, how does he entertain himself?  Scratching in his litterbox and wondering why his poo smells powder-fresh, and how it magically disappears?  Gnawing through the package his favorite treats come in?  Watching the bathtub faucet drip?  All that and more, it seems.  I used to wonder who was messing with my computer.  Now, I think I know:

NIGHT SCHOOL

The mouse is askew,
the icons paw-sized, again
But this time, he’s left a trail,
having forgotten to wipe
his browsing history:

PHYSICAL SKILLS
High Jump I – Counters
High Jump II – Refrigerator
Sneak Attacks
Shedding on Demand

HAZARD AVOIDANCE
Baths and Water
Vacuum Cleaners
The Crate Escape
Pills and Vet Visits

LANGUAGE SKILLS
Nuances of Meow
Hissing and Yowling
Body Language
Advanced Ignoring

OUTDOOR SKILLS
Camouflage
Birding and Mousing
Skunk: Friend or Foe?
Traffic Smarts

CAT BURGLAR
Computer Settings
Cupboards and Closets
Faucets and Doorknobs
Raiding the Dog Dish

JUST FOR FUN
Litter Tracking
Hacking up hairballs
Batting Electrical Cords
Let Me In, Let Me Out

It throws a brand new spin
on the nature v. nurture debate
but I am weirdly proud of him;
my clever cat,
just six credits from his Masters

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READING BETWEEN THE LINES

If you’re a writer and you submit your work, rejection letters are a part of life.  They are generic and carefully worded, so as to let the rejectee down as gently as possible.  My poem is crafted out of sentences from actual rejection letters I have received (in bold).  Note: I obfuscated or changed proper names to protect the innocent.  Sandwiched between the sanitized lines are my own sarcastic additions (in italics).  If you’ve been snubbed, you might as well have some fun with it.


Dear WRITER,
and I use the term “writer” loosely

Greetings from the LALA-ZINE staff
tasked with drafting rejection letters
Thank you for allowing us to consider
how appalling poetry can be, owing to
your recent submission, WHATEVER
which, quite frankly, took the cake.

We recognize the effort you put into
ignoring the clearly stated guidelines for
submitting this piece, and regret that
because it is a complete waste of paper,
it doesn’t meet our needs at this time
or at any other time, for that matter.

Rest assured, it was read thoroughly
by a sleep-deprived, first-year intern
and given most careful consideration
as in, What the hell were you thinking?
before being returned to you by mail
in the SASE you so dutifully provided.

Ultimately, simple editorial preference
for quality work over hackneyed refuse
guides our choices; it is not a comment
OK, you got us…  it actually is a comment
on the merit of your particular piece
one best suited for the recycling bin

Although we are unable to accept it,
(our congenial euphemism for rejection)
we wish you luck in placing it elsewhere
You are going to need it, in this situation
and in all your future writing endeavors
Take my advice, don’t quit your day job.

Sincerely,
Not really,
Mae B. Nextime
First Assistant to the Assistant Editor
and Voice of Your Harshest Inner Critic

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BLOCKED? RORY TO THE RESCUE!

I came upon Rory’s Story Cubes at Bed, Bath & Beyond on an end cap dedicated to cheap kiddie toys—yoyo’s and silly putty and Spirograph Junior.  My inner artist was begging for a set, so I obliged and forked over the $5.99.  It went in her Christmas stocking and ultimately ended up on a closet shelf.  I serendipitously rediscovered it during a recent bout of writer’s block.  Inside the orange pouch are nine dice.  Instead
of numbers, each face has a picture on it.  You roll the dice, then write or tell a story that includes all nine of the objects pictured.  A simple creativity generator.  So anyway, this was my first roll:

Dice
Magnet
House
Fountain
Fish
Tree
Bee
Apple
Telephone

And here is the story I came up with:

Ever since Peg’s eyes had been opened, she saw homeless folks, stray cats and dogs, hitchhikers, and drivers with dead batteries everywhere. In under a year, she had given away more dollars and shelter and rides and jump starts than she could begin to count. Even within the protect-tive walls of her house, Peg attracted charity cases like a magnet.  She rolled the dice and took her chances every time she answered the tele-phone, knowing she could not resist any plea to save the children, the trees, the bees, or whatever little-known fish was now endangered due to an oil spill.  Even though her cash flow was more of a trickle than a fountain, the fluttery rush of do-gooding had become quite addictive.  When the doorbell rang, Peg hurried to answer it, expecting to find a neighbor who was short a cup of sugar or in need of someone to sign for a package.  Peering through the peephole, she regarded a stout, cellophane-wrapped fruit basket sitting atop her welcome mat.  There was no sign of whoever had left it.  She hoisted it up by its handle and carried it to the kitchen table, admiring the trio of blushing Honeycrisp apples visible through the film—her favorite.  The card was unsigned;
it simply said, “For all you do.”  Peg undoubtedly deserved the gift, but had taken great care to remain anonymous and thus avoid any sort of repayment.  Someone knew her secret.  The question was, who?

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SINCE WHEN ARE U-TURNS LEGAL?

Last week’s comments about my self-check nightmare were generally sympathetic.  Others hate them as much as I do, but we figure they’re here to stay whether we like them or not, so we had better move into the 21st century.  I’ll be the first to admit, technology is great when it works.  But if you overuse it, it becomes a crutch that could be yanked out from under you at the worst possible moment.  Don’t believe me?

Try using your cell phone to call for help when your car breaks down in Amish country.

Try downloading a Kindle book while vacationing on a remote Lake Erie island.  You’ll end up on the library steps with your fingers crossed, just like every other camper who didn’t bring a paper book.

Try using your flashlight app after the power has been out for two days.

Try missing your exit and letting your GPS lead the way:

THE ADVICE NOT TAKEN*

Two roads diverged on the interstate
the traffic tight and moving fast
Ol’ Tom-Tom warned a bit too late
to queue up left instead of straight;
we missed our exit, blew right past.

“Recalculating,” Tom intoned
as he my waywardness discerned,
then silent went my chaperone
until his mocking monotone
advised an “authorized U-turn.”

I traveled on a mile or two,
past gravel U’s with glaring signs
prohibiting my passage through,
yet Tom-Tom didn’t have a clue,
repeating, twice, his standard line.

I shut him off and heaved a sigh
knowing, from that moment hence,
on map and wits should I rely
‘cause Tom, although a clever guy,
is not equipped with common sense.

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*A parody of Robert Frost’s THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

THE SCARLET LUDDITE*

I lost my self-check virginity at 43.  Five o’clock rush was in full swing at the grocery and the cashiered lanes were jammed.  At the far end, the self-check barker hollers, “Step right up, folks!  Noooooo waiting!”  My earnest desire to save ten minutes quickly devolves into an S&M night-mare, a threesome with Evil Siri and a hillbilly clerk who take turns verbally spanking me while I screw myself and turn fifty shades of red.

Self-checks are all business—no foreplay with the mints and gum, no perusing tabloid headlines.  I punch START, scan my reward card, and set my reusable bag on the carousel.  A smooth female voice scolds, “Please remove your item, scan it, and place it in the bag.”  The bag is empty, so I pay no mind.  I wave a can of pineapples over the scanner.  Nothing happens.  After several more (literally) fruitless attempts, the attendant scurries over.  “It’s your shopping bag,” she says.  “If you’re gonna use your own bag, you gotta say so before you start.”  She hits CANCEL.  When the screen resets, she demonstrates, as if to an idiot, how to press USE MY OWN BAG.

I scan the pineapples… beep.  Cat food… beep.  Cake mix… beep.  Frosting… beep.  Finding my groove at last.  Birthday card… beep.  I slide it into the bag. “Please place the item in the bag,” says the voice.  Ummm, it is.  I take it out and shove it in harder, but the voice drones on, unconvinced, until the attendant arrives and hits the bypass key.  She shrugs.  “Sometimes lightweight stuff don’t register.”

Organic bananas.  It wants the PLU number on the sticker.  94011…  ENTER.  “Weighing, please wait” says the voice.  I’m patient for fully twenty seconds before glowering at the attendant, who grudgingly grants the bananas passage into the bag.  Organic avocado.  94225…  ENTER.  The same screen reappears.  Figuring I must have keyed it in wrong, I re-enter the digits.  This time, it works.  Relieved, I place the avocado in the bag and hit FINISH“Do you have any coupons?”  NO.
I swipe my VISA and inexplicably, the transaction is declined.

As I gather my wits, the attendant struts over.  Apparently, that second screen was asking how many avocadoes I had.  I’ve exceeded her void limit; she’s got to page the manager.  I’m mortified, but the expression on the guy’s face when he sees the total, $94,235.56, is almost worth it.  He voids and re-rings.  I pay and slink off to the parking lot in shame.  Oblivious to his frantic shouts, I make it halfway to my car before he catches me, proffering, with a saccharine smile, a familiar-looking reusable bag.  “Forget something?”

Oops, better make that fifty-one shades of red.

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*This true story made it to the final round in the 2018 Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Contest.

DAFFO-DILIGENCE

I love every spring flower, but daffodils most of all.  Crocus are low to the ground, built to withstand the weather’s vacillations.  Tulips wait until they know it’s safe.  According to local legend, winter is not over until snow has fallen three times on the daffodils.  Surely, they know this.  Yet they stick their necks out, risking it all to brighten the dreary landscape.  Grouped together in our flower bed, they are the trumpet section of a marching band, bravely tooting Spring’s Reveille, making joyful music for the eyes and renewing the spirit:

FLOWER POWER
(Monotetra)

On the heels of winter’s chill
emerge audacious daffodils
trumpeting from yellow frills
soprano trills, soprano trills

Intrepid Marchers, heads bent low
in bracing wind and fickle snow
Brassy bright on spring’s tableau,
they fairly glow, they fairly glow

With blaring, daring confidence
born of a faith in Providence
that resonates, pure and intense,
inside my chest, inside my chest

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I’VE GOT A LEGO BY THE TAIL…

For Christmas, my husband got me a Lego set.  Yes, I’m a kid at heart, but that’s not why.  This set makes, like, the grooviest model 1960’s Volkswagen Bus ever.  We’ve owned three of them, a 1973 Bus, 1984 Vanagon, and a 1966 Splittie with a rare Freedom America snow cap. I’ve been known to collect VW Bus memorabilia like t-shirts, magnets, die cast models, bird houses, Christmas lights, etc, and I could hardly believe my luck when this beauty popped up on Amazon.com, just in time for Santa to deliver it.  One tiny caveat: Legos require assembly.

I grew up making things, with blocks, Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, erector sets.  There were no Legos yet, but building is building, right?  The box said “Expert, for ages 16 and up.” I wasn’t intimidated until I opened it.  This particular set contains 1,334 pieces in twelve different colors and 235 different shapes.  Many of them are smaller than my pinky finger-nail.  There were two instruction manuals.  I figured one was English, the other, Spanish.  Nope.  You need both.  There were no words, just diagrams of its 115 complex steps.  I shoved it all back in the box and it took me a month to work up the nerve to open it again.  You build a Lego Bus the way you eat an elephant… one bite at a time.  Now that it’s done, I feel like it should be displayed in a glass trophy case, right next to my Olympic gold medal for Endurance Lego Construction.

LEGOS, LEGOS

Legos, Legos, a thousand plus
in the kit for the Volkswagen Bus
What mere mortal hand and eye
would dare attempt its assembly?

I dump the contents of the box:
thirteen bags of plastic blocks,
instruction books marked “1” and “2”
with diagrams out the wazoo

This potpourri, I organize
first by color, then shape and size
Special parts in their own piles:
headlights, hinges, bumpers, tires

I build each module, step by step,
awed at how the parts connect
Frame and axles, checkered floor,
engine, cockpit, windows, doors

Splittie windshield, louvered vents,
a roof equipped with a pop-up tent
Ensconced inside, a small homestead
cupboards, table, fold-down bed

When the final page I reach
and snap in place the crowning piece,
Do I smile, my work to see?
Take photos for posterity?

(You betcha!)

Legos, Legos, a thousand plus
behold, transformed into a Bus
and due to the level of difficulty,
they’ll remain a Bus eternally

  front view

 with splittie windows open

 in the driver’s seat

 rear view

 back hatch open

 engine compartment

 side view

with side doors open

 pop-up tent

 living area

 Z-bed down

 my favorite piece

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