WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

Seems anything can be a sport these days, even things that require little or no physical skill or talent.  Like chess.  Or poker.  Since I suck
at chess and cannot control my “tells,” I need the Olympics to hand
out gold medals in something for which I possess natural aptitude:

THE BEDROOM SPORT  —  Sonnet
(No, not that one!  Geez, get your mind out of the gutter.)

If snoring were to be declared a sport,
a competition all night long would rage
Chuffing Chortle versus Thunder Snort,
contenders on the PosturePedic stage
Pure monotone or wild cacophony?
Scoring-wise, it doesn’t really matter,
but uvulation is compulsory;
the judges gotta hear them tonsils rattle
A deviated septum raises hell,
like a double chin or lying on your back,
all guaranteed to boost your decibels
and jerk the needle on the seismograph
But in the end who wins, you or your mate,
depends on who’s asleep and who’s awake

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ONLY GOD CAN UN-MAKE A TREE

Perhaps can is the wrong word here…  Maybe I meant to say should.
A crew of tree guys has been working in our cul-de-sac since sun-up to trim pesky branches away from the power lines, the air vibrating with the buzz of chainsaws, the rasp of rakes, the chunkety-chunking of the wood chipper.  The big ash tree in our front yard is barely hanging on,
a victim of the dreaded ash borer.  During high winds or heavy rain, he litters the roof, lawn, and driveway with all the brittle, hollow branches that have succumbed since the last storm.  Cutting him down would be the prudent thing to do, and we have gotten an estimate, but foisting euthanasia on any living thing is hard for me.  His lowest branch is still sturdy enough to support our Amish swing.  He leafs out in springtime and his canopy, albeit haphazard, converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, gives shade, and shelters the birds and squirrels we so love to watch.  His roots are active as well; every year or two, they sneak through the hairline crack in the sewer tile, go gangbusters, and surprise us with a back-up à la commode.  How does one justify killing something with so much joie de vivre?  When he does eventually come down, I would like
to keep one thick round from the stump for posterity, preserved with
a coat of polyurethane.  With my finger, I’ll trace the rings that tell his life story, scan the pages of his colorful and meticulously kept journal.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Hidden in the rings of trees
a life of secrets never told
Densely rippled diaries
hidden in the rings of trees
Circumferential histories
inscribed in umber, red and gold
Hidden in the rings of trees,
a life of secrets never told

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SPRING FORWARD, AUTUMN BACK?

Is it Autumn or Fall?  My husband and I have debated the name of the season for the past thirty years.  To me, fall has always been fall.  My parents said so; when you’re a kid, they’re the authority on everything.  That hit a snag when I started school.  Apparently, the last two meals
of the day are lunch and dinner, not dinner and supper, as I had always been told.  My lunch box was proof.  My parents disputed this claim.  Back in the day, when they walked ten miles, uphill both ways, to the one-room schoolhouse, they had carried dinner pails.  Ask a teenage Wal-Mart clerk where to find “dinner pails” and you’ll get a blank look, the same one you get if you inquire about canning jars or clothespins.  The 80-year-old greeter will know what you’re after; if he’s a wise-ass, he’ll snicker and direct you to the Olsen’s Mercantile in Walnut Grove.  Fall, however, was validated on the bulletin board in our classroom.
F-A-L-L, spelled out in big, official-looking letters and surrounded by a mélange of red, orange, and yellow construction paper leaves.  If a nun said it was so, it was so.  Nuns were demi-gods, after all.  Fall remained rock-solid, unchallenged until I married a man who insisted “autumn” was the correct word for the season between summer and winter.  If that were true, it would be the dinner/supper dilemma reincarnated, not to mention poor Sister Josetta having to suffer in purgatory, her penance for lying.  The librarian hedged, saying it could go either way; fall was simply vernacular for the “proper” term, autumn.  Not one to lose sleep over being proper, I used fall and autumn interchangeably
for years without really thinking about it.  Then I did think about it:

FALL BY THE WAYSIDE

Mankind was damned
by its fall from grace;
we fall off the wagon,
we fall on our face

We fall ill but we never
fall into good health
We fall into ruin,
not winnings or wealth

We fall blindly in love,
a free fall of the heart,
falling out, then away,
‘til it all falls apart

We fall over ourselves
but fall short of success,
falling victim, it seems,
to our own eagerness

Fall down on the job
or fall prey to a scam
and you’ll need to resort
to your fall-back plan

Pleas fall on deaf ears
A joke might fall flat
Fall too far behind and
you’ll fall off the map

We fall on our swords,
take the fall for a friend,
doomed to fall ‘til the big
curtain falls at the end

Connotations of gloom
are surely the reason
that AUTUMN, not FALL,
is my favorite season

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SHIFTING THROUGH THE SEASONS

Autumn moves in like an inexperienced driver, one who hasn’t quite mastered the gears that make the earth revolve smoothly around the sun.  He’s wary at first, but soon barrels ahead into sweater weather, only to backpedal into summer for two sweltering weeks in October.

Speaking of which, my nephew and niece turned sixteen and started driving this year, stirring up memories of my own early experiences behind the wheel.  I can appreciate why parents aren’t especially eager to ride shotgun while their progeny learn to navigate the open road.  Mine sent me to a two-week driving school.  My first in-car instructor was a very pregnant Hispanic woman.  It terrified me to realize three lives would be at stake if we crashed.  The teacher, blithely unaware
that I was a driving virgin who had never even backed the family Buick out of the garage, told me to “adjust the seat and mirrors” while she popped back inside to use the restroom.  She returned to find me ill-positioned and completely perplexed.  How was I supposed to adjust the seat if I didn’t know what I needed to be able to do or reach?  How could I adjust the mirrors when I didn’t know what I should be able to see?  She sighed; it was gonna be a long two hours for both of us.  We went no faster than 35 mph, circling clockwise, then counterclockwise around the block, me struggling to keep the car between the lines as
I practiced stops and right and lefthand turns.  I must have scared the poor kid right out of her; I arrived the next morning to find she’d been replaced by an easygoing hillbilly with long hair and a scraggly beard.  On the entrance ramp to the highway, he slid one foot out of his man-sandal and pulled it up onto his lap. “Turn your left blinker on,” he said.  He barely glanced up from the callus he was picking as I merged, white-knuckled, into the speeding traffic.  I learned to drive a stick shift in my boyfriend’s Mercury Lynx.  It was surprisingly easy; I can recall only one embarrassing incident.  I was first in line at a traffic light, waiting to make a left turn.  When I got the green arrow, I manipulated the pedals as I had been taught, but somehow, I stalled the car.  I tried again and again, to no avail.  Traffic backed up behind me.  Angry honks filled the air.  Stymied, I fingered the shifter, realizing as the light turned red that the car was in third gear.  More precisely, jammed in third gear.  When the light changed, I punched the gas and held on as the engine caught and the car bucked and jerked around the corner.  I managed to coast safely into a parking lot and use a pay phone to call my boyfriend, who dispatched two of his mechanically-inclined uncles to the scene.  Mark and Rich were kind enough to get me un-jammed without any snickers or snide remarks.  At least, none that I ever knew about.  It was a life lesson in having patience with beginners… both ourselves and others.

AUTUMN DRIVE

Another one of Earth’s boys
must have gotten his learner’s permit
Suddenly, the orbital ride
is downright jerky and unpredictable
Stalling out and stopping,
creeping cautiously through summer,
then punching the gas,
tossing equinox headlong into solstice,
only to jam on the brakes
and throw the spin of the entire planet
into a wobbling reverse
Trees blush in embarrassed empathy
Earth sighs and sets his jaw;
they will tackle parallel parking later

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POETRY 4220: WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Friends often ask how I became a poet.  Did I write poems as a child?  Was I a promising writer in high school?  Did I major in Literature or Creative Writing?  No, no, and no.  I was an architect of wooden blocks and Tinkertoys as a kid.  My Senior English teacher (and ACT) indicated that language was my weakest subject.  I did not begin my writing life
in earnest until I retired from nursing in autumn 2014.  Due to budget constraints, offerings at the local university were limited.  Poetry was the only writing class available and I grudgingly agreed to give it a try.

The first assignment had me in a dither: “With This Is Just To Say in mind, write a short poem based on something mundane.”  Like what?  Dust?  Chicken noodle soup?  My life?  A mere two feet away, Froggie hung from my pencil jar sending an urgent psychic message, Oh! Oh! Pick me! Pick me!  He’d cost $1.99 at a Maine gift shop called The 45th Parallel.  He’s small, olive green, and has hooked front legs that allow him to hang from things.  A couple weeks after I got Froggie, hubby kidnapped him from my desk and hid him.  I found him hanging on the edge of a bowl in the kitchen cupboard, a fun surprise.  So I hid him for hubby to find, peeking out from a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom cabinet.  Moving him around became our little “I love you” game.  On several occasions, Froggie got knocked off his perch and broke a leg, but each time, we mended him with a few drops of Super Glue and the game continued.  Froggie became the subject of my (very mundane) poem, which was returned to me marked “Purely delightful!” I will be forever grateful to my teacher for not writing, “Yikes!  Is Dr. Seuss on the loose?” which would have stopped me in my tracks.

ODE TO SUPER GLUE

My ceramic frog
is a great little token
of our Maine vacation
and that’s no jokin’

He fell a few times
and has two legs broken
but with a bit of Super Glue,
he keeps on croakin’

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JUST GRIN AND BARE IT

I have a doctor’s appointment coming up this week, which brought to mind a piece I did a while back for an online writing class.  It ended up on the slush pile because the word count exceeded the limit. Though loosely based on real-life events, this story-with-a-twist is fictional:


When the smiling medical assistant calls my name, I get up and follow her down the hallway to the examination room.  I don’t know about you, but all that smiling gets on my nerves.  Why do they always have to be so damn cheerful as they lead you to the slaughter?  The paper-covered table awaits.  She gestures and says,“You know the drill, everything off from here down.  Dr. Shwarma will be in to see you in a minute.”

I remove no more than absolutely necessary, stack my things neatly on the pink pleather chair in the corner, and sit down on the table to wait.  The doctor will not be in “in a minute.”  That’s just another glib lie they tell you.  The air conditioning is chilly and I wish I had one of those little mini-sheets to cover up with.  I guess modesty isn’t as big a deal where Dr. Shwarma is from, but she’s generally pleasant and competent, so I keep my complaints to myself.

In due time, Dr. Shwarma arrives.  She gives three quick raps on the door, then squeaks it open before I have a chance to holler Come in.  “Gooood morning,” she sings through the entryway, as she grabs my chart and flips it open. “You are here today for check-up…” she says.
I can’t tell if it’s a statement or a question, but I can see clear into the hallway behind her so I answer in the affirmative, hoping she’ll come inside and shut the door before the whole clinic gets a free show.

“Well then, let’s have a look.”  She slides on the half-glasses hanging from a silver chain around her neck and begins her exam.  I stare up at the ceiling and try to escape to my happy place, but her near-constant commentary is distracting.  “The anatomy here is a bit unusual,” she says, touching the weird part with her gloved finger.  “It’s nothing to worry about, just something to be aware of.  If function is affected or
it bothers you,” she prattles, “there is surgery that can be done.  Does
it cause you any problems?  Any pain?”

“Nope,” I say curtly, hoping she’ll get the hint and move things along.

“You have a small lesion here that should come off.  I can remove it for you now, if you like.  That would save you another trip, yes?”

There is nothing I would like less, but I nod.  I don’t want to have to come back.  She fills in a few blanks on a consent form and has me scribble my signature at the bottom.  She roots around in a nearby drawer, grabs a sterile package, and peels it open.  She withdraws a throwaway scalpel and leans toward me.  I scoot back.  “You’re just going to cut it off, just like that?  Shouldn’t you numb it first?”

“There are no nerves here,” she says. “It will not cause any pain.”

My mouth is dry and my heart is racing.  I brace myself as she presses the blade against my flesh but she’s right, I don’t feel a thing.

“This,” she says, holding up a thin slice of tissue, “is a benign thickening caused by overuse and friction.  You do not have much cushion there, between the surface and the bone.”  She rolls her little stool backward and discards her gloves in the trash can.  “As long as there is no pain or bleeding, you may resume your normal activities today.”  Then, almost as an afterthought, she points and says, “You might want to trim those.  Or perhaps treat yourself to a professional job.  Summer fashions can be quite revealing, as you know.”

I am beyond embarrassed.  The minute the door clicks shut, I yank my socks and shoes back on and grab my purse.  On the way out, I stop to schedule my follow-up.  Though the dog days of August are still in full swing, the clerk’s desk sports a Halloween-themed bowl of corn pads next to a crafty wooden sign that says “Trick or Treat, Smell my Feet.”  Podiatry humor.  Ugghhh.

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TINY FLASHES OF HALLELUJAH

Have you ever witnessed a miracle?  You probably have – they happen all the time, but we often chalk them up to serendipity or coincidence. “Flashes of Hallelujah” my friend Julie calls them.  Not flamboyant stuff like winning the Lottery (though that would certainly count), just small everyday miracles like making it to the gas station with the needle on “E,” discovering that your old jeans still fit, being escorted by a pair of dragonflies along a footpath in the woods, finding a handwritten letter among the bills and junk in your mailbox, or getting the laundry down off the line in time to beat the storm.  Last week, I stuck my hand into the pocket of a rain jacket I hadn’t worn since spring and pulled out a twenty dollar bill.  This past Thursday, I harvested a dozen blushing-yellow tomatoes from my garden, more than I’d be able to use, and in short order, the extras were adopted by a most grateful neighbor. On Friday, my dog did his business a minute before we reached the front door, so I didn’t have to carry his reeking poo-sack for the entire walk.  Some are a bit more mysterious, like two Sundays ago when I went out to get the paper.  I glanced around the quiet cul-de-sac, finding myself mesmerized by the colors of sunrise reflected in an RV window.  To the east, the sky it mirrored was still dusky violet.  The sun, though up, had not yet cleared the treeline, leaving me to question how I’d seen what
I saw.  A wise person said, “Let up a little on the wonder why, and give your heart a try.”  So I put pen to paper and let it speak.  It was cool to picture God with His Crayolas.  The 128-pack including “sunrise” is only available in heaven.  No sharpener; up there, crayons never grow dull.

AS THE SUNDAY PAPER
LIES ON THE DRIVEWAY,
FORGOTTEN

An early riser thrusts
His sunrise crayon
through a portal
in the copse to the east
coloring the camper’s
rear window
with a gleaming
pink-gold reflection

Framed just so,
it grabs my retinas,
focuses them
on a keyhole miracle,
the Divine Projectionist’s
sleight of beam,
just for me,
just for a moment

His dazzling epiphany
supplants my low purpose
with a higher one:
seeing the unseen,
grasping that these
impeccably aligned rays
offer a mirrored
self-portrait of God

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DOUBLE-TALKING WITH THE DEVIL

Yippee!  It’s almost salsa season!  Thanks to a balanced mix of hot sun and plentiful rain, I’ve had homegrown jalapenos for a few weeks now, and my heirloom “watermelon” tomatoes are just beginning to blush.  I bought my seedlings in May from an organic farmer who started them in his greenhouse.  Anxious to get them planted, I spent that morning clearing a space in our raised bed.  Absentmindedly, I grabbed handful after handful of weeds and tossed them toward the compost pile, the dog snapping eagerly at the bundles as they sailed past.  I was having a (sort of) good time until I spied a coiled-up snake where my hands had been, just a second before.  Snakes aren’t common here—this was the first one I’d seen in twenty years.  I donned a pair of work gloves and grabbed a shovel from the garage and we had a chat, the snake and I.
I promised not to chop him in half if he would slither out of my yard
and go elsewhere.  It took some convincing (including a bit of sweet-talk and a wild ride on the shovel) but he left and has not come back.  The next day, after my heart rate had returned to normal, my one-way conversation became a pantoum filled with oblique “garden” rhymes:

NEGOTIATIONS IN EDEN

O, snake in the garden,
my cold-blooded find,
begging your pardon
but this parcel is mine

My cold-blooded find,
your life I won’t shorten
but this parcel is mine;
I offer a bargain

Your life I won’t shorten,
my motives are kind
I offer a bargain;
just leave it behind

My motives are kind
The soil here is spartan;
just leave it behind
for grass like a carpet

The soil here is Spartan;
relax and unwind
on grass like a carpet
Be free, unconfined

Relax and unwind
beyond my yard’s margin
Be free, unconfined,
go on now, get started

Beyond my yard’s margin
you’ve been reassigned
Go on now, get started,
you’re on a deadline

You’ve been reassigned
Begging your pardon,
you’re on a deadline,
O, snake in the garden

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BEYOND PING-PONG-PANTOOKAS

When we think of poetry, we think of rhyme.  Of course, poems need not rhyme, but it’s a connection our brains have been programmed to make, starting with Jack and Jill, Patty Cakes, and The Wheels on the Bus, and continuing through the classic poetry we read in high school.  That said, it seems strange that today’s editors rebuff rhymed poetry, regarding it as juvenile or unsophisticated; some magazines explicitly request that rhymed verse not be submitted.  Because serious poets shouldn’t sound like Dr. Seuss or the inside of a Hallmark card, right?  But skillfully executed rhyme shows mastery of both the art and craft of poetry.  Think Shakespeare, whose sonnets would not be nearly as compelling if they did not rhyme.  (Nor would they be sonnets, for that matter.)  Free verse may allow you to say precisely what you wish, but using words already in your lexicon to express yourself doesn’t force you to stretch, learn, grow.  Throw in a rhyme scheme, however, and a poem becomes a puzzle, one that compels the writer to seek out new words or reconstruct his lines.  All I am saying, is give rhyme a chance.

RHYME: JAM IT OR SLAM IT?

It seems, at this time, that a new paradigm
regards free verse as the height of sublime
a and b past their prime, worth nary a dime
Editors snub, wash their hands of the crime

Pained, drained by a scheme’s ball-n-chain
how well can a writer’s voice be retained?
He’ll soon ascertain if he retrains his brain,
he could gain one insane lexiconic domain

Rhyme may prove hairier, thornier, scarier
but get off your derriere, break the barrier
Consult a thesaurus, your synonym carrier
harvest fresh words, the more the merrier

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HOW DO YOU SPELL RELIEF?

After a week or two of sweltering heat, we look forward to the mid-summer rains that thunder down so hard and heavy that the parched ground can’t begin to soak it all up.  The runoff swells the placid creek, which rushes and foams through the narrows, then relaxes into a wide pool near the footbridge.  Our black Lab used to jump headlong into this opportunity every time it presented itself.  Just something in his DNA, I guess.  I would look on, petrified, as he fought to stay upright and keep his nose above water, and wonder if his heart was pounding
as hard as mine.  At the end of the ride, he would emerge on wobbly legs with this LOOK on his face… a look I could not fully identify with until I finished my first public poetry reading; as I headed back to my seat, the expression on my face felt strikingly similar.  This poem is a monotetra, by the way, a form I featured in a prior post on donuts.

WATERSLIDE CREEK

As buckets tumble from the sky
and supersaturate July
the lazy creek runs fast and high,
a water slide, a water slide

Our Labrador cannot resist
a thrill so serendipitous
One daring leap and he’s adrift
the current swift, the current swift

Pumped with pure adrenaline
he rolls and bobbles as it wends
hanging tight ’round curves and bends
until it ends, until it ends

Then up the muddy bank he climbs
all lolly-tongued and starry-eyed
Delight and terror, when combined
can be sublime, can be sublime

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