ALL IT NEEDS IS A LITTLE LOVE…

And maybe a tattered baby-blue blanket wrapped around its base?
Whatever your religion (or not), this tree-shaped nonet has got you covered.  Sorry it’s late.  May every heart grow three sizes in 2018!

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ENTERTAINING ANGELS UNAWARE

‘Tis the season of charitable giving.  The most cheerful givers tend to
be those who’ve been on the receiving end, often quite recently.  This week, I would like to share a Christmas story that’s near and dear to my heart.  They say you cannot spread joy to others without some spilling back on yourself.  Luckily, joy won’t stain your shirt, like turkey gravy or cherry pie.  So feel free to spread and spill as much as you want:

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a young couple who lived in a drafty rental house in upstate New York with their five cats, three of which were not sanctioned by the landlord and had to be kept hidden. They dreamed of owning a home and taking in all the strays they wanted. When they learned the Air Force was moving them to Dayton, Ohio, they contacted a realtor in Yellow Springs, a liberal village that felt right to them.  There were only a couple homes in their price range.  They trekked across I-90 three times that autumn to check out the possibilities and made an offer on the best one, a small, sturdy brick ranch with a fenced backyard, located on a quiet cul-de-sac.

The bank required a thick stack of paperwork, their finances laid bare on the loan officer’s desk.  They had overextended themselves in the past:  a new car, a motorcycle, a vacation to Europe, vet bills for the cats.  They had gone through credit counseling and reined in their spending, but they were still a long way from paying off their debts.  The loan officer reviewed their forms and shook her head.  But if they were willing to jump through some hoops and obtain a VA guarantee, maybe she could swing it.  The VA packet was thicker and even more daunting, but they persevered and the guarantee was granted.  Even so, their application was iffy.  The loan officer issued strict instructions not to touch their credit cards or deplete their accounts for anything frivolous.  Just rent, utilities, food, and existing loans.  Nothing else.  Every dollar counted and the approval of their mortgage hung in the balance.  This meant there would be no tree, no presents, no trip home, no Christmas.  They sighed heavily; the thought of it was almost too depressing to contemplate.

The next morning, they took stock of their assets.  A trunk of lights and Christmas decorations.  Flour, sugar, and cookie cutters.  Miscellaneous craft supplies.  Paper, envelopes, and a book of postage stamps.  They pooled the cash from their wallets and added the change from the big Mason jar, a grand total of $64.  They obviously couldn’t buy and mail gifts to everyone, so they devised a plan.  They would fulfill one wish from the Angel Tree, spending fifty of their precious dollars on a fancy dollhouse for an underprivileged child.  The wife sent a letter to their closest family and friends explaining their circumstances.  Inside each, she enclosed a handmade angel ornament crafted from white felt and lace and buttons, a reminder that however little one might have, there is always someone who has less.  They baked sugar cookies to munch on.  There wasn’t enough left over for a tree or a holiday dinner with all the trimmings, but it didn’t matter.  All they really wanted was good news about their house.

Two evenings before Christmas, they heard a knock at their front door.  On the porch was their neighbor, Tim, wanting to know if they needed help putting up their lights.  He could lend them a ladder.  Tim peered into the living room, wondering aloud why they had no tree or decora-tions, and the whole sad story came pouring out.  He invited the couple to join his family for Christmas dinner, assuring them there would be plenty of food.  Having nowhere else to go, they gratefully accepted.

The following night, Tim dropped by again, this time dragging a lush evergreen he’d gotten for a song from a tree dealer eager to clear his lot and head home.  They retrieved their decorations from the attic.  Tim steadied the tree while they secured it in the stand.  They finished stringing up the lights and arranging the ornaments just in time for Midnight Mass.  On Christmas day, Tim and his family welcomed them, inviting them to fill their plates and grab a seat by the tree.  Little did they know, there were gifts for them, too.  Overcome, eyes glistening, they opened up packages of slippers, a throw blanket, hot cocoa mix, cashews, popcorn, and candy.  It was one of their most memorable and joyous Christmases ever.  Tim smiled ear to ear, accepting nothing but their gratitude and the promise that when they were able, they would pass it on.  He could not have imagined what he set in motion that day.

Soon after, their mortgage was approved and they moved into their very own home.  By the following Christmas, they had added a pound puppy to their menagerie and saved up enough to make good on their promise.  For twenty-three years now, they’ve been paying it forward, largely under the radar.  They’d like to keep it that way, so I’m not at liberty to say who they are or exactly what they do, but rest assured, they are real people, just like you.

There are still eight days until Christmas… it’s not too late to spill some joy.  Keep your eyes and ears and heart open; you’ll know what to do.

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THE BIRTHDAY GIRL’S ADDRESS

Two score and nine years ago, my mom and dad brought forth on this planet, a new baby, conceived in January or February, and dedicated to the proposition that any child born into a Catholic family must, within a reasonable timeframe, have a sibling.  Thus, the minute I arrived home from the hospital, I already had what my older sister had waited three years for:  a friend.  I don’t recall much about our first meeting, but I’ll bet she peeked through the bars of my crib making silly faces, singing songs, or showing me her toy telephone and urging me to hurry up and start babbling so we could get our money’s worth from AT&T.  She called me a few days ago, and it was one of those rare occasions when the planets aligned and we both had time to talk.  A two-hour phone conversation might sound frivolous or decadent, but when we connect after a long hiatus, that’s how we roll.  We catch up on the day-to-day, spill our news, share our triumphs and tragedies, laugh like crazy, take
a pee break, and laugh some more.  I’m dumbstruck by how much alike we turned out, having had only haphazard contact for the past thirty years.  My solution to a front-loading washer that leaks a bit?  Shove a towel under it.  Her solution to a broken dryer button?  Turn it on and off with a pencil eraser.  Two peas in a pod, I’m telling you.  This seems like a point for nature in the ongoing nature-nurture debate, but don’t forget, we grew up together and shared a bedroom for fifteen years.  Mom would tuck us in and tell us to be quiet and thirty seconds later, we’d be chattering about something of vital importance:  what fourth grade was like, whether Santa Claus was real, what kind of dog we’d get if mom would ever let us have one.  Today, it seems like every kid has their own room.  I’m glad I didn’t because if I had, I’d have missed out on one of life’s greatest treasures.  This poem is dedicated to the world’s best big sister and my very first friend:

LIGHTS OUT

After nighttime prayers were said,
Mom would send us off to bed.

Close your eyes and go to sleep;
no conversation, not a peep!

We’d cover up, lie really still,
and summon every ounce of will

But quickly our resolve would crumble,
cautious whispers turned to mumbles

Jokes and secrets of all sorts,
muffled giggles, squeals, and snorts

The raucous chatter siblings share
drowned out Mom’s footsteps on the stair

but her command to QUIET DOWN!
cut through the din and shook the ground

Instantly, dead silence reigned,
save for the snores my sister feigned

Once satisfied she’d changed her course,
we’d carry on without remorse

On nights we earned a second warning,
talk was tabled until morning

Then, touching hands between our beds,
wordless wishes traded heads

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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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A BASKET OF PEACHES

Whew!  It has been a really busy week!
Hubby’s birthday
Our 29th anniversary
The neighborhood block party
A doctor’s appointment
Scheduling other appointments spawned by that appointment
Pursuing an idea for a new writing project
And on top of all that, we’ve added a new member to our family:

This is Peaches.  As they packed up to move to a new house along the highway, a dangerous situation for their outdoor kitty, our neighbors asked if we would take him.  He’s orange, which sealed the deal for me, with amber eyes, Gremlin ears, and a tail that’s fluent in sign language.  He is shamelessly affectionate.  He likes flannel and canned cat food. His first meeting with the dogs proved him to be lightning-fast, adept at finding hiding spots, and in possession of the most venomous hiss this side of the Mississippi.  Once he has visited the vet and recovers from getting snip-snipped, he will be allowed outside again.  I’ll post more poetry as soon as I have the time and inspiration to write it.

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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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IT’S GETTING KINDA DEEP IN HERE…

Yesterday, we celebrated Earth Day and today, I’m due to introduce a new type of poem, so I’m aiming to score two goals with a single tool.  Dig it?  The “GOLDEN SHOVEL” sounds like a gardening award but is actually a contemporary poetic form created by Terrance Hayes.  And
a clever way to pay homage to a favorite poet.  Here are the rules:

1. Borrow a line from a poem you admire.
2. Use the words of the borrowed line as the end words of your lines.
3. Keep the end words in order.
4. Give credit to the poet you borrowed from.

NOTE:  Your poem need not be about the same subject as the original

 

MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH*

He is there for me every
single minute of the day
Even in the bathroom, I
am never alone, you see,
he provides company or
protection or whatever I
require as if he can hear
my thoughts, something
he does with an ease that
mystifies. But he is more;
my soulmate perhaps, or
a shrink who charges less
and really listens. He kills
me with hilarity, slays me
with tricks, fells me with
love, buries me in delight

*A Golden Shovel from Mindful by Mary Oliver

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WHEN ONE ART BEGETS ANOTHER

In my little village, art is highly valued and might be found anywhere.  Years ago, the painting below was on display at our local pizza parlor, part of a small art show.  Something about it spoke to me, and it was inexpensive, so I bought it.  I later learned the artist was a student in junior high.  It was the first piece she’d ever sold and she was elated.  Knowing that made it positively priceless.  To this day, that dandelion painting hangs above my desk, a testament to everyday beauty and a reminder that it’s never too early (or late) to indulge the creative self.

So I chose to make it the subject of an EKPHRASTIC poem.  These are vivid descriptions inspired or stimulated by a work of art, most often a painting or sculpture.  Additionally, the poet may use her imagination
to narrate, reflect, or otherwise amplify or expand upon its meaning.

TUFTS OF FLUFF

drift over the border
of a square blue world
devoid of breeze,
remaining aloft
on the singular power
of a fervent wish

Riding high on
the hopes and dreams
of a fledgling artist
whose stiff brush
dances across
her canvas trampoline

Amateur fingers
tracing the wild shape
of serendipity
visible only
to audacious believers
willing to imagine it

 

Here is another, a “wishful” triolet from last fall:

YELLOW SPRING

A dandelion gone to seed
can color spring with yellow
Packaged cleverly, indeed
A dandelion gone to seed
Make a wish and set it free
Aloft and soft and mellow
A dandelion gone to seed
can color spring with yellow

 

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WHAT’S THE CATCH?

Just Joan features yet another new form this week.  This one is rather gimmicky, and as such, presented a colossal challenge.  Read the poem slowly and carefully.  See if you can figure out what is special about it.

AFTERNOON NAPS

Spent, pate to toe,
far past espresso,
of a state apropos
for a nap

Afternoon frees one
to tap open season,
to reap for no reason
a nap

Star operator
of a potent sonar
senses fortress not far
for a nap

Sofas possess
apt erasers of stress
or so patrons attest:
Naps, naps, naps!

No opposer, no foe,
no trespasser – presto!
A safe spot for repose,
for a nap

A soft, serene nest
for a soporate rest,
or a profane snore-fest,
for a nap

Naps appease, naps sate
Naps restore, naps penetrate
Naps ease a tense state
Naps rate!

So snare a transport
free of fare, sans passport
to a far-off resort:
Port O’Nap

 

Give up?  “Afternoon Naps” is an ANAGRAMMATIC poem.  In this form, all of the words in the poem are constructed from a given set of letters, in this case, those in the poem’s title.  I allowed myself unlimited use of the sanctioned letters in each word, but no other leeway.  Point of the exercise?  Cutting out two-thirds of the alphabet might slow a poet down, but it will not stop her.  Somehow, she will still find a way.

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EL-EM-EN-OH-PEE!

ABECEDARIAN is an ancient poetic form based on alphabetical order. Generally, the first line begins with the first letter of the alphabet and subsequent lines begin with successive letters until the final letter is reached.  My friend Chevvy wrote a really impressive one last spring; click HERE to read it.  Mine is a simple list compiled from the pages of my gratitude journal.  Try one!  What inspires YOU?

abc-2

INSPIRATION A TO Z

Autumn, Apple Butter, Aurora Borealis
Blizzards, Baby animals, Baking cookies
Cloud formations, Candles in windows
Dandelion puffs, Dreams remembered
Earth and Echoes and Earflaps on hats
Farm markets, Fireflies, Freckled Faces
God, Gratitude, Guacamole with chips
Handwritten letters and Happy endings
Inner vision, Imagination, and Insanity
Jazz saxophones, Java, and Journaling
Karma coming full circle, playing Kazoo
Libraries, Life Lessons, and Loving arms
Muses, Memory, the Moon when it’s full
Nature, Naptime, and a New Notebook
Orchid blossoms, Oldsters with attitude
Pet antics, Prompts, and Practical jokes
Quiet mornings, Quilts stitched by hand
Rainbows and Random Acts of Kindness
Serendipity, Syncopation, Street Music
Teachers, Time alone, Thunderstorms
Underdog victories and Ugly Umbrellas
Volkswagen Busses that go Vroooom!
Wonder, Wood smoke, Window seats
X on a treasure map, XXX’s and OOO’s
Yoga in motion, Yakking with my sister
Zinnias flanking the Zigzag path of life

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