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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WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE NEW YORKERS DO

Hubs and I spent a year in Rome.  Rome, New York.  It’s upstate, where winters are long and cold and snowy.  Our rental house was four floors: full basement, first story, second story, and full attic, square footage that costs a fortune to heat.  To save money, we decided we’d tough it out and not turn the furnace on until November 1.  Such an idea might pass for reasonable in Ohio, but up there, it means watching TV in long johns and a sweater.  Under a winter coat.  Wearing mittens.  I became passionate about baking, a good reason to turn on the oven and linger in the kitchen.  Precision tasks like knitting or carving a pumpkin had to be done a bit at a time so I could stuff my hands in my pockets or wrap them around a mug of hot tea to restore flexibility.  Somehow, we did it, and the memories flood back every autumn when I turn the furnace on, wrinkling my nose at the dusty-stagnant air rising from the vents.

Last year, the furnace went wonky on us.  It would run one cycle (five minutes), then quit.  It wasn’t the pilot light, so we did the only other thing we know to do:  turn off the power, wait a couple minutes, and turn it back on.  I’m told it resets the circuit board, similar to rebooting
a balky computer.  When that repeatedly failed, we called “THE GUY.”  Between diagnoses and returning to install parts and troubleshoot, he made seven trips.  We were hopeful at the outset, but soon, each new repair was regarded with wariness.  Would it work for a day?  A week?
A month?  Were we going to freeze to death before Mr. HVAC actually got it fixed?  The VILLANELLE, with its endless loop of repeating lines, seemed the perfect vehicle to drive this story home:

FURNACE VILLANELLE

My furnace has an intermittent glitch
And inexplicably, the heat goes out
I toggle off and on the power switch

the sole maneuver in my bag of tricks
I call the man and say, without a doubt
My furnace has an intermittent glitch

He reassures me HVAC is his niche
and pencils me onto tomorrow’s route
I toggle once again the power switch

Hot air escapes the vent, a little titch
The motor cycles once, then peters out
My furnace has an intermittent glitch

Qualified to sort out what from which,
the man returns with toolbox, skills, and clout
replaces flame inducer, pressure switch

unblocks a drain, addresses every hitch
It runs like new a month or thereabout,
then crashes from an intermittent glitch
I toggle off and on the power switch

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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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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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PLUNGED INTO A NIGHTMARE

Have you ever felt like you were being trolled after making an online purchase?  The Cosmos knows not only what you bought, but a host of other things you might like, based on that choice.  It suggests items to complement or enhance it.  It pops up helpful messages like “Others who bought this item also bought X, Y, and Z.”  This may be tolerable if you’ve purchased something innocuous, like a socket set or a sleeping bag or a case of dog food.  But if it was something of a more personal nature, look out.  It could trail behind you like an embarrassing ribbon
of toilet paper stuck to your heel.  Read and heed this cautionary tale:


BUYER BEWARE

The Squatty Potty© that I bought
as a gag gift for a friend
unleashed a virtual onslaught
of gear for my rear end

A screen popped up before I had
completed my transaction
suggesting, for my favorite lad,
a kit called Master Crapsman©

The link connected in a snap
to a site for Poo-Pourri©
Just spritz the bowl with Trap-a-Crap©
and drop a deuce, scott-free!

They also thought I might enjoy
a box of quilted Shittens©
an ill-conceived commercial ploy
for wet wipes shaped like mittens

I cleared my cookies straightaway
suspecting double-cross
but onward marched the shit parade
like a wave of chocolate sauce

T-shirts with “I pooped today!”
stamped across the chest,
padded seats and chrome bidets
and fiber supplements

Free shipping on a new commode,
a plumbing tour de force
designed to handle outsize loads
in just one flush, of course

I phoned the website to demand
they cork their brown assault
They claimed it was out of their hands
Alas, the system’s fault


But accept this free Emoji Turd
a download for your phone
in case you’re at loss for words
or texting on the throne

I found a clever use for it,
a survey from their end
I awarded them five little shits

and pushed the key to SEND

The last laugh wasn’t mine, I fear
I found myself upstaged,
Joan LIKES the Squatty Potty! smeared
across my FaceBook page

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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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NOTES FROM CHEMISTRY 101

Our garden contains an eclectic mix of things.  It started as nine herbal seedlings purchased from someone with a gorgeous plot of herbs and
a hand-lettered sign.  But my husband, the gardening equivalent of Tim the Toolman Taylor, felt the need to expand our potted paradise into a PROJECT involving a wagon wheel design, backbreaking labor, gravel, sand, rustic brick walkways, etc.  Through experimentation, we learned what will thrive here:  weeds, oregano, echinacea, white sage, rhubarb, tomatoes, hot peppers, squashes disguised as melons.  The Kiwis were an impulse buy, I admit, but we’re fond of exotic fruit trees, and Lowe’s garden centers wouldn’t sell them in Ohio if they couldn’t survive here, right?  The Chicago hardy fig from QVC is living proof – it has wintered over well and bears amazing fruit in years when the growing season is long.  So, He-Kiwi and She-Kiwi are healthy and leafy and gorgeous, but their interest in hooking up with each other (or even exchanging phone numbers) is zip, zilch, nada.  The rest of the garden, however, is a Dirty Dancing extravaganza.  And Free Love calls for Free Verse, does it not?

A NON-COUPLE OF KIWIS

Who knew that Kiwi trees
are not self-pollinators
but He-Kiwis and She-Kiwis?
Into the cart, one of each,
a blind date hastily arranged
in the garden center aisle

Seven years of proximity
have resulted in nothing but
a maddening fruitlessness
Across the arbor, we shackle
their magenta-veined palms
in a Bonsai-style romance

A picture-perfect twosome
schooled by birds and bees
yet chaste as brother and sister
until the sparks start flying…
I find her tendril under a fig leaf
fondling its hanging fruit

He is more promiscuous,
feeling up the black currant bush
and caressing a frond of asparagus
while leaning sideways to grope
the ample bosom of a carmine rose
bedecked in tiny pearls of dew

If attraction could be conjured,
I would be cooing over Grand-Kiwis
Instead, I ponder hybrid oddities,
grapples and pluots and tangelos,
picturing how they came to be,
the love children of sly passions

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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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KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, FOR REAL

A LIST poem is one comprised of a list of things–names, places, items, actions, thoughts, images, etc.  These are a favorite of mine because they’re flexible and fun, and can be written in any form you wish.  The following sonnet is the product of a story:  a year ago, our fridge went kaput.  I chose the new one based solely on the size and versatility of the shelving system in the door.  Why?  Because I am a foodie with an obsession for condiments.  One can never have too many, am I right?

CONDI-MENTALITY

My new refrigerator has a door
with roomy bins like gifts from Heaven sent
designed for jugs of milk and juice and more
but perfect for my hoard of condiments

Ketchup, mayo, salsa, barbecue,
a cache of salad dressings quite absurd,
ginger root and lemongrass in tubes,
Sri Racha, onion jam, and lemon curd

Wasabi, maple mustard, and Dijon
Molé sauce and hoisin, tangy-sweet
Tubs of curry paste and marscarpone,
Capers, kalamatas, pickled beets

The other shelves are barren, I confess
My budget garnished into nothingness

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