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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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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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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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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CAN-NOODLING WITH PARODY

A PARODY is a humorous or satirical imitation of a serious piece of literature or writing.  In the following parody of Charles Kingsley’s famous poem Young and Old, I have made every effort to mimic the flavor of the original piece:  the discourse on opposites, the finished length, the galloping cadence, the unusual rhyme scheme.  “Don” is,
of course, a narcissistic president more concerned about his dessert than the plight of the refugees in…  uh… whichever country he just bombed.  Don’t be a Don, folks.  If you have food on your table, give thanks.  If you have extra, graciously share it with your neighbor.

THE TOP AND THE BOTTOM

When every meal is fine, Don
all lobster tails and steak
Paired with the perfect wine, Don
and gorgeous chocolate cake
Then raise your glass to wealth, Don
A toast to billionaires!
Indulge your precious self, Don
Reach for your silverware

But don’t forget the ones, Don
whose budgets barely stretch
They make their grocery runs, Don
the day they get their checks
All beans and rice and staple foods
for soups and casseroles
Yet bow their heads in gratitude
to He who fills their bowls

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THROWING TOGETHER A PANTOUM

After chewing and digesting last week’s pantoum, one of my faithful readers commented, “I suspect this form is deceivingly simple.”  I had put a lot of work into it and was taken aback, but her words hummed
in my subconscious…  Perhaps she had intuitively grasped something
I hadn’t.  I wanted to test her theory by creating a “found” pantoum.  Currently in the throes of a summer reading frenzy, I borrowed two random phrases from each of the three books parked on my desktop
(The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron), and two more from my
go-to cookbook, a dog-eared copy of Real Thai by Nancie McDermott.
I typed and copied the phrases and went to work cutting and pasting, arranging and rearranging them according to the Pantoum Rule Book until they clicked in place.  The resulting poem is a bizarrely accurate picture of my writing life, the intersection of a soul and a notebook, a story told in the words of others but a wholly unique voice:  my own.

SUBMERGED

I’m mad for the smell of paper,
a habit I fell into of necessity
Without worry for things left undone,
I communicate only with glances

A habit I fell into of necessity,
connecting the dots into a mandala
I communicate only with glances
balancing sweet, sour, salty and spicy

Connecting the dots into a mandala
I must turn to face my own life
balancing sweet, sour, salty and spicy
alone with no one to guide me

I must turn to face my own life
without worry for things left undone
Alone with no one to guide me
I’m mad for the smell of paper

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LOOSEN UP!

Malaysian in origin, the PANTOUM is a looping poetry form made up
of two or more quatrains.  The lines overlap as they weave in and out, loose ends neatly tucking themselves in as the poem comes full circle.  Every line is repeated; lines 2 and 4 of the first stanza cascade down to become lines 1 and 3 of the next, a pattern that continues throughout.  The final stanza grabs lines 3 and 1 of the first stanza and recasts them as the third-to-last and final lines.  Word Karma comes into play here.  Rigid lines will double back and bite you – graceful in one context but awkward in the other.  Loose phrases, however, will pull together and tighten up as you work.  Rhyming is an optional mission.  Should you choose to accept it, the most common schemes are abab baba abab baba and abab bcbc cdcd dada.  Below, a pantoum about pantoums:

THE PANTOUM

An infinite design
looping quatrains
crisscrossing of lines
like links in a chain

Looping quatrains
free verse or rhyme
like links in a chain
as words intertwine

Free verse or rhyme
the writer’s domain
as words intertwine
reborn as refrains

The writer’s domain
crisscrossing of lines
reborn as refrains
an infinite design

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COLLATERAL DAMAGE

This week’s form is the LAI (lay).  French in origin, a Lai has nine lines and two rhymes that follow this pattern:  aab aab aab.  Lines with an “a” rhyme have five syllables and those with a “b” rhyme have two.  Mine (below) is also an elegy, mourning the loss of a beloved friend.

For decades, we’ve walked our dogs down a long lane between tracts
of farmland, enjoying the seasonal beauty of an iconic oak on the path.  This year, it emerged from spring rickety and leafless, likely a victim of agricultural pesticides.  It puzzles me that farmers, men who depend on the soil for their livelihood, are so flippant about their use of chemicals.  Without wildflowers and weeds for food, populations of bees and other pollinators continue to wane.  Stately trees are written off as collateral damage.  What do you suppose eating tainted crops does to humans?  Clue:  a hundred years ago, your chance of getting cancer was 1 in 33; today, it’s nearly 1 in 3!  Please, please, please, THINK about what you put in your mouth.  Choose ORGANIC and support farmers who care.

CASUAL-TREE

Lifeless old oak
your shriveled roots poke,
forlorn,
between farm fields soaked
with poisons to choke
weed and thorn
What foolhardy folk
would trade this grand bloke
for corn?

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