HOLY GORGONZOLA!

I have a major weakness for cheese, one
which led to this rich, creamy parody of
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43.

HOW DO I LOVE CHEESE?

How do I love cheese? Let me count the ways
I love it grilled, American on white
Schmeared on an onion bagel, toasted light
In pecan cheeseballs served on holidays

Shingled with fresh fruit on party trays
Swirled in fondue pots by candlelight
I love it hard, aged cheddar with a bite
I love it soft, baked Brie with maple glaze

I love it cheesecaked, lemony and smooth
Blistered on a New York pizza slice
Macaronied into comfort food
Nachoed, patty-melted, batter-fried
If Death disguised himself as crab Rangoon
I’d take the bait and gladly pay the price

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WHAT’S GONE AND WHAT ISN’T

My father passed away on June 24th.  When death strikes somebody near and dear to our hearts, it’s a wake-up call, a siren song urging us
to make the most of the hours we have left.  I’m pushing fifty. What’s done is done. Certain windows of opportunity have closed. The roads not taken are destined to remain so.  What we’ve surrendered might never be recovered.  Yet, all is not lost.  Each of us carries, in a secret pocket deep inside, an insurance policy made of neglected hopes and dreams, waiting to be cashed in.  Desires that, with time and nurture, might enrich our lives, bring us joy, and set us on the path to purpose and fulfillment.  What is it that you long to do?  What are you waiting for?  Life is a limited-time offer!

LOST

Under each public roof
there’s a box or a drawer
of things we’ve misplaced
and return looking for

But childhoods foreshortened
and innocence lost
are among precious items
you won’t come across

No good advice spurned
or time carelessly squandered
inhabit dark corners
where car-less keys wander

No vanished virginity,
old flames, or lost loves
court bohemian scarves
and forlorn single gloves

No obsolete friends
will be spotted consorting
with vagabond wallets
and cellular orphans

No scandalized ethics
or compromised trusts
wear google-eyed sunglasses
covered in dust

No frittered good health
or sharp minds gone astray
jostle musty umbrellas
from past rainy days

But ignored inner selves
and raw talents untamed
and sweet dreams once forsaken
might yet be reclaimed

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SUMMER IN A BIG MASON JAR

Summer is officially here.  And I officially cannot wait for autumn to arrive.  Some people love it when it’s 90 degrees, but not me.  I wilt.  I have zero fondness for sweating, dehydration, heat exhaustion or blinding unsuspecting paramedics with the glare off my shockingly white legs.  Three things make this sweltering season worthwhile:

1.  line-dried laundry

2.  ripe, homegrown tomatoes

3.  SUN TEA
(Monotetra)

With summer rays, I disagree
Their scorching personalities
are fraught with wild intensity
Indoors I flee, indoors I flee

But leave a jar of water first
with four sachets of tea submersed
their amber secrets to disperse
For these I thirst, for these I thirst

No boiling kettle can entice
like long, slow sun served over ice
and wrapped around a lemon slice
Pure paradise, pure paradise

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RORY STRIKES AGAIN!

Definitely a more challenging roll this time:
Pyramid
Water under the bridge
Footprint
Daisy
House
High rise
Lightning
Evil shadow
Frown

Juliana frowned and wrapped herself tighter in the afghan.  There was nothing good on TV – reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, NCIS, This Old House, a documentary about the pyramids, something about reducing your carbon footprint.  She wasn’t sick exactly, but it was easier to fib about having the flu than explain the real problem to her boss.  Some days she just couldn’t go out.  Six months of therapy hadn’t turned her phobias into water under the bridge.  No, they still nipped at her heels, following her like a sinister shadow.  The remains of last night’s dinner sat on the coffee table, stray bits of rice, wooden chopsticks, and two soggy cartons from China Moon.  Their sesame chicken was only so-so, but they delivered.  Next to the mess was an orange gerbera daisy in a green ceramic pot, a present from her little sister, Kate. Juliana envied Kate; she was so fearless.  She didn’t freak out during lightning storms.  She rode public busses and never worried about germs.  She lived in a high-rise—an efficiency apartment on the 17th floor!—and rode in the elevator every day.  Kate sat on her balcony, for God’s sake, sipping on Chardonnay and enjoying the view from a height that would have made Juliana break out in hives.  Dr. Sillman kept suggesting medication, and Juliana kept coming up with excuses not to take it.  But was this the way she wanted to spend her life?  Lying to her boss, flipping through the channels, eating bad sesame chicken, and staring at that annoying daisy?

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DUMP ‘EM INTO THE ZEN BLENDER

Remember the old Reese’s commercial where the guy with the peanut butter slams into the guy with the chocolate and something brilliant is born?  A while back, I selected two favorite books from my bookshelf, Maybe, Maybe Not  by Robert Fulghum and Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls  by David Sedaris.  I collected five random phrases from each and arranged them into a ‘found’ poem, alternating their distinct voices in what became an intriguing, almost philosophical discourse.

THE SOUND OF
TWO MASTERS YAPPING

Ten minutes later,
I was back and we picked up
where we had left off

I did not intend
to lose him to promotion

“Gentlemen, you will remember
that you sent us to the great king,”
I told them,

but I felt uncomfortable
and sidelined by what I knew
of left-wing politics

and a fog of anxious dread
began rising
out of my spiritual swamp

Was he the bravest of them all
or wasn’t he?

A displaced person literally
does not know which way is up,
because there is no true north

I remembered experiencing
the same disquieting sensation,

however, I couldn’t give up;
too much was on the line

“It’s your loss,” I called,
and a great cloud of steam
issued from my mouth

(The regular type is Fulghum, and the italics are Sedaris.)

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POETRY IN 10 NOT-SO-EASY STEPS

On the heels of last week’s poem about processes, I have to wonder who first came up with the idea of mapping them out.  Like, writing down a recipe or the rules for playing a game or basic instructions for assembling furniture from IKEA.  All of these are good, helpful things, but once we got going, we couldn’t seem to stop.  Like toddlers who can’t resist sticking things in electrical outlets, scientists (and middle managers) can’t resist sticking things into equations and flowcharts, where they’re boiled down, logically explained, objectively measured, improved upon, and turned into a boring PowerPoint presentation.

One of our poetry class assignments was to define our poesy process (the method we use to create poems).  I wrote a paragraph every week on this topic.  In it, I offered specifics about each piece, where the idea had come from and how I’d developed it, but no general rule or magic formula ever emerged.  Years later, the “explanation” of my process became its own poem, a Ghazal:

HOW A POEM HAPPENS

A memory or feeling or notion strikes me, igniting the words.
Muses storm inside my head; a bolt of lightning, The Words!

I take down dictation as from a faucet splurting and gushing,
pen racing to keep up; in my slapdash handwriting, the words

I look at them, climb inside of them—seeing, hearing, feeling;
searching for a common theme underlying, uniting the words

I type, cut and paste, rearrange phrases, shuffle them around,
restoring order to the chaos and somehow, righting the words

They choose a form—sestina or sonnet, limerick or free verse
I guide and slide them into it, finessing, not fighting the words

They coalesce into a poem, a fragile but complete work of art
I read it aloud, ears alert for glitches while reciting the words

Revision, my relentless quest for the perfect among the good,
is well-meaning but a bit overzealous, often smiting the words

I stop myself tossing them into the trash, where they belong.
After a walk or a nap, they’re brilliant and exciting, the words

I wield my thesaurus, more gently this time, until fit and flow
merge into music; I chant it to myself, delighting in the words

Instruments of the Great Creator, my hands, my pen, my voice
God’s Gracious Gift gives back to Him, wellspring of the words

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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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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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